The night sky will soon be returning to Mullins, South Carolina. Actually, the stars might not be visible, but the lights should be turned down lower at midnight, now that Wal-Mart has announced that superstore #1869 will close from midnight to 6 am. The decision takes effect on March 13th, and Wal-Mart’s website still lists the store at 305 Commerce Drive in Mullins as open 24 hours. According to a company spokesperson, the overnight shift of workers will be absorbed into the store’s other shifts during its new operating hours. No one will lose their job, but store Manager Willie Holland refused o answer any questions from South Carolina News about the why the hours were cutback as his supercenter. A sign posted on the doors to the store tell customers that the new hours will change in mid-March. In October of 2007, the Mullins store was reopened as a superstore. The location for 15 years had been a Wal-Mart discount store with few grcoeries. When Wal-Mart expanded the store, it said 100 jobs were added, making the grand total 250 jobs. The superstore opened on October 24, 2007. In announcing the new store, Wal-Mart said: “After more than 15 years of serving the community as a discount store, residents will now find groceries, general merchandise and time-saving services in one convenient location. Located at 305 Commerce Drive, the new store was painted in a color palette complementary to the area. “This is an exciting time for our associates,” said Store Manager Jason Eudy, who is no longer the store manager. “We’ve all been working hard to prepare the store for opening and are looking forward to serving our customers in Marion County with the conveniences, savings, selection and services that a Supercenter provides.” The 153,430-square-foot Supercenter features a full line of groceries including bakery goods, frozen foods, meat and dairy products, fresh produce and a variety of organic offerings. Additional store features include a Tire & Lube Express, a family fun center, a one-hour photo lab, pharmacy and a Wal-Mart Connect Center for wireless phone sales. Leased areas and services include a SmartStyle Family Hair Salon, a branch of Woodforest National Bank and a Subway restaurant. “The store will be open to customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Wal-Mart boasted. Now, less than a year and a half later, Wal-Mart is shutting down its overnight hours. There is only one reason why Wal-Mart would close down at night: business has not been as robust as the company expected. But corporate headquarters is not about to shed any light on why this Wal-Mart went dark.
In some communities, Wal-Mart has had to fight local residents to remain open all night, especially when residential property abuts the site. Wal-Mart superstores at night look like a concrete space ship with its engines on a low hum. Despite the rhetoric from lighting engineers that the light from the enormous poles are “directed downward,” and little light “spills” over the property line, these huge buildings glow for miles. Such a mammoth project is incompatible with residential quality of life — especially if the store is open for business all night. These stores also become a magnet for crime, because very little else is open all night in some of these communities. Mullins is a very small city with roughly 5,000 people. Its population has fallen since 1990, when it stood at 5,900 people. The entire population of surrounding Marion County is only 35,466. The introduction of tobacco in 1894 rocketed Mullins into the “Tobacco Capital” of South Carolina. As many as 200 tobacco barns sprang up throughout the community. Warehouses were also constructed and the first tobacco sale took place on August 28, 1895. The city is still best known for its tobacco market — and the fact that its one hour from the Myrtle Beach area. This is the same city that made headlines in May of 2004 when Mullins attempted to rebuild its manufacturing base by making a novel jobs pitch to Wal-Mart. Mullins town officials and Marion County residents asked the world’s largest retailer in an open letter to become their “partner in prosperity” and “help bring jobs back to America” by agreeing to buy T-shirts “at a fair price” from a shuttered sewing plant that they hope to reopen. Several state and local lawmakers and about 4,700 residents who live in and around Mullins signed the letter, which was published in a full-page advertisement in the newspaper. Sprawl-Busters reported on November 11, 2004, that Wal-Mart had spurned the deal. Sam Walton boasted about his “Bring It Home To the USA” Program, which he started in 1985 “in response to the soaring U.S. trade deficit.” He said that buying American products was not going to be “some blind patriotic idea”, because Wal-Mart would “only buy American if those goods can be produced efficiently enough to offer good value.” Sam said if his buyers “can get within 5% of the same price and quality, we take a smaller markup and go with the American product.” The company announced in November of 2004 that they had decided not to ink a contract with a Marion County, South Carolina textile mill to produce a U.S. t-shirt called, ironically, ProsperiTEES. The Anvil Knitwear plant, which shut down in 2002 and cost 600 people their jobs, made a pitch to Wal-Mart for a 5 year contract to produce t- shirts. Wal-Mart told city officials it “had several people look at it, but they could not make it work financially.” Wal-Mart said the deal would mean higher prices for its customers. Anvil workers even went to Bentonville, Arkansas to present their plan to Wal-Mart, which they hoped would restore 350 jobs. They told Wal-Mart the company could gain back some goodwill lost in a courtroom battle over a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter being fought by neighboring Florence, S.C. residents. Anvil’s research said that Wal-Mart shoppers would pay more for a t-shirt made in the U.S. They said the Anvil t-shirt would cost 75 cents more than a shirt made outside of America. A town attorney involved in the deal told the press that Wal-Mart “gave absolutely no credence to the validity of our ‘buy American’ research.” Wal-Mart explained that its research indicated that customers would not be willing to pay more for products made in the U.S. “While most of our customers would probably agree with this philosophically, they just aren’t willing to pay more for domestically made merchandise,” Wal-Mart said. Town officials were disappointed by Wal-Mart’s decision, but the Mayor said, “The people who worked at Anvil want to go back. I am sad about them. But we will keep plugging along.” That was a little over four years ago, but some people still harbor ill will about the retailer that would not Buy American. Readers are urged to email the current Mullins Mayor Pam Lee at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Lee, Great news about Wal-Mart shutting down at night. That should be a big relief to your police department, who won’t have to paying as many calls to the building over night — and it certainly is appreciated by anyone living near the store. After the way Wal-Mart treated Mullins and Anvil workers back in 2004, its amazing you let the company expand in your city at all. Take advantage of Wal-Mart’s closure at midnight, and adopt an ordinance that requires all retailers over 40,000 s.f. to shut down at midnight. Don’t give Wal-Mart the chance to open again overnight. They’ve done nothing for Marion County — except rob you of manufacturing jobs they outsourced to China. For that, they deserve to have their lights turned out.”