Look for the Silver Lining

The unexpected announcement this past week that the Walmart Express in Donalsonville is closing caught everyone in this community off guard.  Employees found out the night before the statement and I received a call at 7 am the next morning.  After all, it hasn’t been quite a year since the multi-million dollar facility opened.  
The reassurance that the decision in no way reflected on our community or the quality of the local “associates” is small consolation.  Certainly the 60 days’ worth of pay or relocation to the nearest Walmart doesn’t do much for the workers who live and work here.
There is a bit of community comfort in knowing that it really wasn’t about our local store.  In fact, every one of the Walmart Expresses in the country is being closed.  102 of these smaller facilities will close in the next few weeks, just a part of the 269 Walmart stores that will be closing worldwide.
I could not help but notice yesterday that almost a year after Walmart opened in Donalsonville, the receipts continue to spell the name of our town incorrectly.  Perhaps that tells their story as much as anything as they tried to move into neighborhoods and small towns.  
To be sure, there are individual local employees of Walmart that will feel a significant and direct hit from the decision to close.  Some professionals with established careers made the decision to come here to work, most so they could be closer to their homes and families.  They now face the tough decision of restarting their career or continuing to work in a Walmart up to 50 miles away.
    Others at the lower end of the pay scale will have the same opportunities, though financially it is harder to justify paying for the gas to drive very far to a $9 per hour job.  We wish them all well and hope they quickly find gainful employment here or nearby.
It isn’t always easy to find the silver lining in a negative situation, but I believe that Donalsonville will respond to the closure of the Walmart in the same way that it responded to its opening; positively and proactively.  
Locally, nearly every direct competitor of the Walmart Express stepped up their game after the announcement Walmart was coming to town.  There have been multiple remodels of businesses here.  Many increased their advertising and community involvement while fighting to keep or expand their customer base.  Family Dollar is even replacing their old building with a new facility.  
With almost every competitive opening my company has ever had, we have eventually emerged stronger and more successful than ever.  It is sort of like the old saying “That which does not kill us will make us stronger”.   I believe that Donalsonville is indeed stronger today than it was the day Walmart opened in our small town.
That is not the case in many of the other communities affected by the closings.  Nearby Ashford lost a grocery store and a Family Dollar.  Other communities had their only other grocery store put out of business by Walmart and are now faced with the challenge of their citizens having to buy even their most basic food needs out of town.  
In the meantime, the city and county will continue to collect taxes on the 2 Million Dollar facility which is still owned by Walmart.  Local governments are hopeful that the closure will have little effect on overall sales tax collections.
The city has talked to Walmart officials who have promised to work with us to aggressively market the almost new facility to another business.  After all, our goal is to fill every vacant building in town, not just Walmart.
In the meantime, you can do two things. First, reach out to those you know that are facing career changes and at least offer them moral support.  Second, visit your local merchants, both homegrown and corporate, and purchase your needs, when possible, from them.  After all, many invested in this community years ago and again when Walmart came.  They deserve your support.
o0o
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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