In the early 1990s, Hearne, Texas reached national attention as “the town that Wal-Mart killed twice” — once on the way in, and once on the way out. Since that time, many small towns have been “killed twice” by Wal-Mart. One of the most recent such towns is right in Wal-Mart’s home state. One of the earliest Wal-Mart stores in the country is being shut down. Wal-Mart discount store #84, located at the Pinecrest Plaza in Brinkley, Arkansas will close at the end of May, according to a report in the Arkansasmatters.com. Brinkley is a tiny town of roughly 4,000 people located due east of Little Rock along Route 40, a little less than halfway towards Memphis. Since 1990, the town has lost 22% of its population, so it is not surprising that Wal-Mart lost an interest in being there. Some residents say they are concerned about losing the Wal-Mart, which has been around since 1974. The store is closing for two reasons: 1) the lease on the building expires in June, and 2) Wal-Mart is completing work on nearby superstores that make the Brinkley store of little value to the company. Wal-Mart dominates Brinkley. It’s the largest employer in town, with 48 workers. Local folks worry about the economic impacts of an empty Wal-Mart. Some residents complain that they will be hard-pressed because the nearest Wal-Marts today is 25 miles to the east in Forrest City, and 40 miles to the West in Lonoke. In announcing the store closing, Wal-Mart released a statement that read: “We’ve been part of the Brinkley community since 1974, and this was a difficult decision to make. With the expiration of our lease, we realized our best business decision is to serve our customers and associates with our Supercenter locations in Forrest City and Lonoke.” According to Today’s THV, Brinkley officials are upset about Wal-Mart abandoning the town. Officials note that Wal-Mart accounts for most of the sales tax in town. Mayor Barbara Skouras told THV, “That old saw that Wal-Mart ruins towns, maybe they did 35 years ago, but they certainly have been an asset to our community in recent years.” The Mayor met with Wal-Mart managers on February 26th, to express her concerns about what would happen to the retailer’s employees — her constituents. “Wal-Mart did agree with me this morning that they would try and relocate these 48 people in other stores around the area,” the Mayor told the media. “Of course that means that the people will have to drive to Forrest City and about 45 to Lonoke; that would be our nearest stores.” The head of the local Chamber of Commerce added, “Which is a huge impact on Brinkley because this is the place to go to purchase anything.” She said consumers and employees don’t have the means to travel 45 minutes one-way. “A lot of people that work here are elderly people who can’t drive to another city.” Even though the Mayor described Wal-Mart as “an asset,” the head of the Chamber of Commerce shared with THV her frustration that her town is being dumped by Wal-Mart. Standing in Wal-Mart’s parking lot in front of the red and white sign which reads “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” the Chamber head explained, “This is what the parking lot looks like most of the time, you know, it’s busy. That’s why it’s hard to understand that they feel like they cannot keep the store open and it’s not funding itself because it’s always busy.” Meanwhile, downtown Brinkley is struggling. Once Wal-Mart shuts down, there’s still a Kroger grocery store and a Save-A-Lot, but the town has lost some of its local merchants over the years. Instead of lingering over losses, Mayor Skouras is working to re-open a blouse factory that used to employee 40 people, and hopes a truck stop will open that the Mayor believes could employ hundreds of people. Wal-Mart says its working with its employees to offer them the ability to transition to positions, or, if they don’t want to transfer, they’ll be offered a severance package. There will be no severance package for the town.
“As with all towns in the twentieth century, Brinkley has experienced the ebb and flow of progress,” the town says. Wal-Mart’s departure has created the biggest ebb in a long time. Brinkley describes itself as “a railroad town,” which became known over the years for its farming and recreational opportunities such as hunting and birding. The Mayor says the town offers “all the comforts of rural living with easy access to the urban amenities of the city.” The Mayor’s main draw for tourists is the reappearance of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, once thought to be extinct. But now the Mayor has to deal with the extinct Wal-Mart. Mayor Skouras is already busy at work paring down her town budget to deal with the loss of their largest employer and sales tax generator. One commenter on the THV website had this to say about Wal-Mart’s closing: “There were quite a few small business stores in Brinkley before Wal-Mart. Where are they now, and where is Wal-Mart? If you think Wal-Mart’s business practices are anything but predatory and self-serving then perhaps you are the ignorant sounding whiner. To write off what is happening to Brinkley and so many other small towns in this country as tough luck is truly ignorant…There is a reason monopolies have been busted in the past and in my opinion Wal-Mart is getting close to that theirself.” Another viewer summed it up in one sentence: “Another small town with no future. You got all they had now move on to another one!” Readers are urged to call Mayor Skouras at (870) 734-1382 with the following message: “It’s hard to see how you as Mayor can call Wal-Mart ‘an asset’ to your small town. Communities like Brinkley are called the ‘towns that Wal-Mart killed twice’: once on the way in, and once on the way out. Sure, you got sales tax, but were the net taxes any greater than if Wal-Mart had never darkened your door? Look at your downtown today, and consider the businesses that went under, or never grew while Wal-Mart was around. The fact that the nearest stores to you now are 25 miles and 40 miles away should tell you that Wal-Mart didn’t even want to maintain a presence in your community — because you don’t have the population base, and what little you had, is declining. Wal-Mart has dumped you, and they won’t look back. The good news is that smaller businesses will return to Brinkley, now that the shadow of Wal-Mart is gone. Your town will soon join Camden, De Queen and Pine Bluff as the 4th Arkansas town with an empty Wal-Mart on the market. Many Arkansas towns have seen their “assets” come and go when Wal-Mart was done with them. You’d do well now to pass a zoning amendment limiting store size to 75,000 s.f. so you never get visited again by a big company with no small town loyalty — to the community, or to its workers.”