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Wal-Mart closing American Way store

By Cassandra Kimberly

Saturday, March 29, 2008

If it wasn't for a lonely, white banner hanging near the entrance of Wal-Mart at 5000 American Way, customers would have no idea the location was closing its doors for good.

For now, employees continue their work as usual, but as May 8 approaches, bare shelves and clearance tags will mark the final days.

The building lease expires in June, said Wal-Mart spokesman Dennis Alpert. Instead of keeping the 110,000-square-foot location in the struggling Delta Square shopping center, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. decided to take a different route.

The news comes two years after Wal-Mart had considered opening a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the Mall of Memphis and said it had "no plans" to close or move the American Way location.

In November, Wal-Mart said it would no longer pursue a Mall of Memphis store as the company began scaling back new stores over Wall Street's concerns that the retailer's new stores were stealing sales from existing outlets.

"We're not looking at it as a loss as much as a shift in direction," Alpert said. "We're taking a 21-year-old store in an economically challenged area and looking for new opportunities."

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company is scouting several sites to replace the American Way store, which opened in 1987, including land near Macon Road and Houston Levee in Cordova.

The world's largest retailer has 11 stores in Memphis and Shelby County, not including a new Wal-Mart Supercenter at the Fayette-Shelby county line in Oakland.

The retailer's relocation marks another big loss for the community near American Way and Mt. Moriah, said Danny Buring of The Shopping Center Group. In 2003, the Mall of Memphis closed its doors with many others following.

"It is a shame because they are the last big retailer left after the mall," he said. "There's still a tremendous amount of population in that pocket."

The declining neighborhood and a large demographic shift, combined with bankruptcies of large national and regional retailers and some high-profile crimes, attributed to the vacancies in the area.

According to U.S. Census figures from 1990, the tract that included the Mall of Memphis site and surrounding neighborhoods had 5,542 residents with a median household income of $28,131. Of the residents counted, 4,151 were white and 1,285 were African-American.

According to the 2000 Census, the same tract had a population of 6,562 with a median household income of $31,000. Of the residents counted, 4,512 were African-American and 1,363 were white.

While Wal-Mart officials develop a closing plan for the American Way location, 98 full-time and 75 part-time employees will have to make a decision -- take a severance package or relocate.

"What we try and do is (relocate associates) geographically," Alpert said. "We try to accommodate them by putting them in a store near where they live."

Wal-Mart officials still do not have an estimate about how many employees want to take the buy-out and how many need a new Wal-Mart "home."

Contact Cassandra Kimberly at 529-2786. To read more stories by this reporter, go to commercial, click on Contact Us at the top of the home page and then click on the reporter's name.


Commercial Appeal