Portland Walmart closures draw national attention; Wheeler, Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott

Walmart announced last month it was closing its two Portland stores, but drew attention this week as politicians argued online over the cause.

The retail giant will lay off 580 employees when stores close on March 24, according to regulatory disclosures.

Here are five things to know about closures.

Why is Walmart closing its Portland stores?

In announcing the closure, Walmart said a little more that the stores had failed to meet its financial expectations.

“There is no single cause why a store closes,” Walmart spokeswoman Lauren Willis told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “We conduct a thorough review of a store’s performance and weigh many factors before making the difficult decision to close a facility.”

Walmart also announced store closures this year in Arkansas; Washington D.C.; Florida; Illinois; New Mexico; and Wisconsin, according to Insider. Nor were specific reasons given for the closures elsewhere.

Why is this getting so much attention now?

A new set of reports said Walmart was closing all of its Portland stores. And it is, in fact, close both within the city limits.

The company continues to operate stores in the metro area, including Gresham, Happy Valley, Milwaukie, West Linn and Vancouver.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott this weekend aimed at Portland on the issue, saying the shutdown is “what happens when cities refuse to enforce the rule of law.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler fired back on mondaynoting that dozens of stores in Texas have closed in recent years, adding, “The retail industry is changing and retail theft is a national problem.”

What role did crime play in the closing of Walmart?

With no confirmation from Walmart, it’s hard to say. The company’s CEO told CNBC in December that shoplifting could lead to price increases or store closures.

Cody Bowman, a spokesman for Wheeler, said the company made no inquiries of the mayor’s office regarding the retail theft.

However, other major retailers have called on the city to crack down on shoplifting. Nike recently sought to hire off-duty police officers to provide security to reopen a temporarily closed store, a proposal the city dismissed as impractical given the staffing of the police office. And a broader coalition of retailers has called for a more reliable police response to reports of theft and prosecutions of suspected shoplifters.

Wheeler said retailers allow their security personnel to detain suspected shoplifters until police arrive, a practice many retailers avoid due to potential legal liability. Walmart, however, detains shoplifters, Bowman said.

Willis, the spokesman for Walmart, said the Portland Police Department has been “a great partner and we extremely appreciate their efforts to fight crime at this store.”

The National Retail Foundation’s annual security survey found ‘reduction’, the industry term for lost inventory, primarily theft, was 1.4% in 2021, slightly below average five-year period of 1.5%.

That represents $94.5 billion in losses nationwide, the organization said. Retailers, however, attributed more incidents than in previous years to organized theft rings and said the violence and aggression associated with the incidents had increased. Many have increased spending on security, although the CEO of Walgreens admitted this year that the chain may have overstated its losses and spent too much on new security measures.

What is the history of Walmart in Portland?

The Eastport Plaza store in southeast Portland opened in the mid-1990s and expanded in 2011 to include a grocery section. The North Portland site near Delta Park opened in 2013.

It had twice proposed new stores in Portland in the intervening years, one in Sellwood and one in Hayden Island. Both sites faced fierce opposition from neighbors and from Sam Adams, the city commissioner who would later become Portland’s mayor, who said the company treated its employees poorly.

Walmart also closed a small technology office in Portland this year.

And the rest of Oregon?

Walmart operates 45 stores in Oregon — including a dozen in the Portland metro area but outside the city limits — and the company said no further closures are planned.

— The Oregonian/OregonLive

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