Sam’s Club closing; 150 jobs lost

By: By Donnie Douglas - Editor

LUMBERTON — The Sam’s Club in Lumberton, a retailer famous for selling items in bulk, will be closing before the end of the month, eliminating 150 local jobs.

The local club is among 63 out of 660 Sam’s Club stores nationally that will be closed. With the stores will go as many as 10,000 jobs. The closure announcement came the same day that Walmart, which owns the Sam’s Club retail chain, said it would increase its minimum wage and give bonuses to employees nationwide, a move that will benefit about 1 million employees.

A company spokesman said it would work to move the local employees to other Walmart and Sam’s Club stores. There are Walmart supercenters in Lumberton and Pembroke, and three neighborhood Walmarts in Robeson County, two in Lumberton and one in St. Pauls. The nearest Sam’s Club is in Fayetteville.

”We’ve made the difficult decision to close our Lumberton Sam’s Club location,” said Phil Keene, who works out of the corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. “We don’t take this lightly and decisions like these are incredibly difficult.

“Our hope is that many associates will choose to stay with the company via transfer, and we’ll begin working to make that happen.”

Keene said that hourly employees will be paid for 60 days after Feb. 5 “while they look for other opportunities in nearby clubs or Walmart stores.”

The Sam’s Club, which is located at 5085 Dawn Drive, officially will close on Jan. 26.

It will make vacant a 135,287-square-foot building in a key business district, at Exit 22 on Interstate 95. Walmart said on Thursday that 12 of the closed Sam’s Club stores would be converted into eCommerce fulfillment centers in a move that will speed delivery of online orders, but there was no information on whether or not the Lumberton club would be among those 12.

The local Sam’s Club opened in May 2007. It offered memberships ranging from $45 to $100.

The store sold groceries and other regular department store offerings, and unusual items such as kayaks, swimming pools and whirlpool spas. It had a pharmacy, an auto shop, photo lab, bakery, cafe and floral department. It also sold gasoline.

The Robesonian was told that store officials met with employees Thursday morning to share the bad news. A sign on the door at Sam’s Club said its hours would be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday until it closes.

Thursday afternoon two security guards were stationed at the front door, directing people to the signs announcing it was closed and when it would reopen.

Ginger Thompson has been a longtime fan of Sam’s Club, and she drives 28 miles from Dublin to shop at the Lumberton store.

“It just shocked me when my sister called and told me,” said Thompson, who is a Sam’s Club member. “I just

hate they are closing.”

She said she buys groceries there.

“My mother loves the fish,” she said.

She also buys household items such as paper towels there. She said she will continue to shop at Sam’s, but will now have to make the 75-mile round-trip to the Fayetteville store.

“I just feel sorry for the employees who are losing their jobs,” Thompson said.

Lynn Hester was a charter employee at Sam’s Club, having transferred there from Walmart.

“I was a team leader and loved working at Sam’s,” she said. “The club manager, Mike Travelstead, was a good manager and taught us how to operate different machines used in the store. Everyone worked well together and helped each other.”

She said early signs were ominous, and the company had to to adopt “many different policies … due to the stealing.”

“The first Black Friday we did not have the volume of customers that were expected,” she said.

She said the first year the company did not have as much business as projected, and subsequent budgets were adjusted with lower expectations.

Hester continued to shop there and is saddened to see it close.

“I will surely miss shopping there and seeing all my old friends,” she said.

The bad news for Sam’s employees came on the same day that more than 1 million Walmart employees nationally and hundreds locally received some good news.

The retailer announced it was raising its minimum wage from $9 to $11 an hour and also providing a one-time bonus of up to $1,000 for eligible employees. The bonus amount will be based on years of service. The local Sam’s Club’s employees will be eligible for the bonus, as will employees at the five other Walmart stores in the county.

The company also is creating a new benefit to assist associates with adoption expenses.

“Today, we are building on investments we’ve been making in associates, in their wages and skills development,” Doug McMillon, Walmart president and CEO, said in a statement. “It’s our people who make the difference and we appreciate how they work hard to make every day easier for busy families.”

The company said the pay raise would come at a cost of about $300 million this year and the cost of the one-time bonus would be about $700 million.

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By Donnie Douglas

Editor

Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or ddouglas@robesonian.com.

Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or ddouglas@robesonian.com.