Business Lead Story Local News West Edition

Wal-Mart closes Baldwin Hills store on two-day’s notice

BALDWIN HILLS — The Wal-Mart store in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza closed its doors for the final time Jan. 17.

The store was one of 269 worldwide that are being closed by the corporate giant as part of what was being called a corporate restructuring that was announced Jan. 15.

A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Chinatown also closed for good Jan. 17.

The Baldwin Hills store opened in 2003, replacing a Macy’s department store, which closed in 1999.

“Wal-Mart fought so hard to get a foothold in our community, yet has so easily decided to pack up and leave without much notice … to its shoppers or its employees,” Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU Local 2015, said.

The Chinatown’s Wal-Mart opened in 2013 after much controversy.

The company said the stores it plans to close are generally poor performers, and most are within 10 miles of another Wal-Mart.

More than half — 154 — of the locations are in the United States, two-thirds of which are the smaller Wal-Mart Express stores. Only 12 U.S. Wal-Mart Supercenters will close, along with four Sam’s Club stores.

Of the 16,000 employees to be affected, 10,000 will be in the United States. The company aims to place those associates in nearby Wal-Marts.

But when that’s not possible, Wal-Mart said it will provide the laid-off associates with 60 days worth of pay as well as resume and interview skills training.

The retail sector struggled mightily, and shares of Wal-Mart fell 30 percent, last year.

Wal-Mart had been reviewing the performance of its stores since October.

“Closing stores is never an easy decision, but it is necessary to keep the company strong and positioned for the future,” said Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart’s CEO.

Yet Wal-Mart says it will continue with its plans to open 300 new stores around the world later this year and 2017, including up to 60 new U.S. Supercenters and 10 new Sam’s Club stores.

“We are committed to growing, but we are being disciplined about it,” McMillon said.

The closings represent just over 2 percent of the company’s 11,600 stores worldwide. They are generally smaller stores, making up 1 percent of the retailer’s overall square footage and sales.

Five other Southern California Wal-Marts — in downtown Long Beach, Hawaiian Gardens, Bell Gardens, Altadena and San Bernardino — will close on Jan. 28.

Five days after the announced closures, Wal-Mart announced that it would be giving pay raises to more than 1.2 million employees, effective Feb. 20.

Company officials said that with the pay raises, all employees hired before Jan. 1 this year would be making at least $10 an hour. The increases would make the average hourly pay rate for full-time employees $13.38.

“We are committed to investing in our associates and to continuing to simplify our business. When we do so, there is no limit to what our associates can accomplish,” said Judith McKenna, chief operating officer for Wal-Mart U.S. “Our customers and associates are noticing a difference. We’re seeing strong increases in both customer experience and associate engagement scores. Five straight quarters of positive comps in our U.S. business is just one example of how helping our associates grow and succeed helps the company do the same.”

The company also is implementing new short-term disability and simplified paid time off programs for employees.