Thursday, October 18, 2018
News Roundup

South Tampa Sam's Club is shuttered as company announces nationwide closures

TAMPA — The Sam’s Club warehouse that served South Tampa for 18 years is closing along with dozens of others across the country as parent company Walmart pivots to focus on e-commerce.

A sign taped to a window at the 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway location said Thursday it was closed and would reopen Friday. However, the closure appears permanent: A phone recording tells pharmacy customers its last day will be Jan. 26; the company website has dropped the store from its online list of Tampa Bay area locations; and Business Insider listed it among 63 affected stores.

"After a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we’ve decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy," Sam’s Club posted on Twitter Thursday afternoon. "Closing clubs is never easy and we’re committed to working with impacted members and associates through this transition."

Up to 12 of the 63 stores will be converted to e-commerce distribution sites to speed delivery of online orders, the company said in statement. The first will be in Memphis, Tenn. It’s unclear whether the Tampa store is among the 12.

A Walmart official told the Associated Press that at least eight stores closed Thursday and the rest would shut down in the coming weeks.

The Sam’s Club closures, affecting thousands of workers, coincided with Walmart’s announcement that it would boost its starting salary for U.S. workers to $11 an hour and hand out one-time cash bonuses. The displaced employees will get their bonuses, along with 60 days of pay, and for those eligible, severance, the company said.

"We know this is difficult news for our associates and we are working to place as many of them as possible at nearby locations," said John Furner, president and CEO of Sam’s Club. "Our focus today has been on those associates and their communities, and communicating with them."

RELATED: Walmart employees to receive raises, and some may get $1K bonuses

Sam’s Club still has stores in North Hillsborough County, Wesley Chapel, Brandon, New Port Richey, Clearwater, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg.

The pharmacy recording at the South Tampa location said prescription records will be sent 17 miles away to the Brandon Sam’s Club on 2021 West Brandon Blvd.

The closure of the South Tampa location stunned customers who arrived Thursday expecting to find roast chicken and office supplies but instead got a note on a door and unsettling rumors.

"This is a bad move," declared Sofia Pohlmeyer of South Tampa, 65, who visited with her husband in the afternoon. They shop weekly at the store, she said, typically stocking up on meat, paper products, cleaning supplies and water, sometimes dropping in to pick up dinner. She lamented the fact that, because of distance, a Sam’s Club in North Tampa won’t offer the same spontaneous convenience.

"This community needs this kind of store with bulk purchases," she said.

Cathleen Grillo, 76, of Harrison, Mich., spends part of the year in an RV park at nearby MacDill Air Force Base. She drove into the Sam’s Club parking lot with her husband to pick up a few things, only to learn the news. It puzzled her to learn that the store closed unexpectedly Thursday but planned to reopen for a couple of weeks.

"That’s a strange way to do business," she said.

Felix Santana, 59, had another reason for concern. A payment was due on his Sam’s Club credit card Thursday and the shutdown thwarted his attempt to pay. He had no idea the store was closing.

"It means, I guess, we’re going to have to go to Costco," he said.

Earlier this week, South Tampa subscribers of the community bulletin board Nextdoor were hashing out the virtues of Sam’s Club vs. Costco, with fans on both sides, but some told of routinely making the drive to the Brandon Costco over the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. On a good day, it’s 20 to 25 minutes.

Then, Thursday, they noted the demise of Sam’s Club, closer to home.

Media outlets in states including New York and North Carolina reported Sam’s Club closings there, too.

The wave of closures is likely a reaction to the highly competitive and oversaturated retail landscape in the United States, said Steven Kirn, executive director of the University of Florida’s retail education and research center.

"The consensus in the real estate and financial markets is that we are over stored. We have more stores in the United States than we need," Kirn said. "My sense is that Sam’s Club has never gotten the traction that Costco has in terms of customer loyalty and average basket size."

Walmart could have handled the store closings better, he said.

"My impression is that they weren’t ready to announce the store closures today," he said. "It either leaked or rumors were spreading. It seems like employees were not informed. This is a lot of people, maybe a couple of hundred employees per store."

Many customers took to social media to complain to the retailer and demanded a refund on their membership. The company provided a link where they could get a full refund.

Twitter users in Alaska questioned the wisdom of closing all the stores in the northernmost state.

"Closing @SamsClub in #Fairbanks or even #Alaska in general, is the dumbest thing I’ve heard," a user named Chandi Napier, "Where are people gonna buy bulk items during the winter at a decent price?? Especially with everything being so expensive here? #Costco wouldn’t do this to us."

Contact Jonathan Capriel at 813-225-3141 or jcapriel@tampabay.com. Follow @jonathancapriel.

Comments
New Eye Level Learning Center of Wesley Chapel looks to coach up students

New Eye Level Learning Center of Wesley Chapel looks to coach up students

New learning center opens in Wesley Chapel to instill self-directed learning for students.
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Matt Baker on USF, UCF, Florida, Florida State

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Matt Baker on USF, UCF, Florida, Florida State

Times college football beat reporter Matt Baker joins Rick Stroud to discuss whether USF and UCF can make it to their matchup in November undefeated.Plus, they talk about how the Gators are preparing for Georgia next week. And, what can we expec...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Tessera to bring its band of senior living to Westchase with new facility.

Tessera to bring its band of senior living to Westchase with new facility.

Solvere Living pours millions into developing an upscale, modern-day living community for senior citizens in Westchase.
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Reward offered for wolf that escaped as Hurricane Michael hit

Reward offered for wolf that escaped as Hurricane Michael hit

The search is on for a wolf named Tahane who reportedly escaped when Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida Panhandle. The Seacrest Wolf Preserve is now offering a $800 reward for help.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hurricane Michael: Here's how we reported from Mexico Beach

Hurricane Michael: Here's how we reported from Mexico Beach

Reporting in a hurricane is dangerous, complicated and important. When it came to Hurricane Michael, we had to find a way to tell the stories.
Updated: 1 hour ago
More record heat for Tampa Bay to close out week, ahead of a slightly cooler Sunday

More record heat for Tampa Bay to close out week, ahead of a slightly cooler Sunday

It'll be another searing day in Tampa Bay as temperatures rise to 92 by the afternoon. With scarce cloud cover and little chance of rain, there's little chance of a cool down until Sunday.
Updated: 2 hours ago
Houston slips past USF in AAC power rankings

Houston slips past USF in AAC power rankings

While the American Athletic Conference's East Division remains a three-team race, Houston is in the driver's seat as the only remaining unbeaten team in the West.Houston, which has won its first two league games by an average of 18.5 points, moved to...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tampa chief wants council to see larger context in ticketing of black bicyclists

Tampa chief wants council to see larger context in ticketing of black bicyclists

TAMPA ó Police Chief Brian Dugan will deliver a breakdown of bicyclists stopped and ticketed by police at todayís City Council meeting, and the data will confirm what some council members already suspect: Black bicyclists are disproportionately stopp...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Baby born after Hurricane Michael starts life in Walmart parking lot

Baby born after Hurricane Michael starts life in Walmart parking lot

Wilmer Capps, wife Lorrainda Smith and little Luke settled in for the longest of nights in the best spot they could find: The parking lot of a Walmart store shut down by the storm.
Updated: 3 hours ago
Some of these Florida amendments arenít worth your time

Some of these Florida amendments arenít worth your time

For such a sacred document, we seem to give little thought to scribbling on, erasing and haphazardly expanding the Florida Constitution.Since a revised version was established in 1968, Florida voters have been asked to consider more than 175 differen...
Updated: 4 hours ago