Saving Walmart? Raymondville residents petition to keep their store open

RAYMONDVILLE — Residents of the area aren’t happy and some have vowed to do something about it.

A petition drive has been launched requesting Walmart to reconsider plans to close its Raymondville store.

The Facebook petition had collected 1,191 signatures as of 6 p.m. yesterday.

Organizers say the petition will go to Walmart President Doug McMillon.

Signatures were still being collected last night.

The petition says the store’s closure would pose a “burden” for residents within a 25-mile radius.

“Think about your customers; think about your committed employees,” the petition states. “As many communities surrounding the greater Raymondville area, we depend on this store. Closing this store will bring (a) burden to many people as many just can’t afford the 30- to 40-minute drive to the next city that has multiple Walmarts.”

But Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said Walmart executives have told city officials they will not reconsider the store’s closure.

Last week, the world’s largest retailer announced the closing of 269 of its least profitable stores in the United States and Latin America, including a Brownsville store on Padre Island Highway.

Walmart executives said they would not open a smaller store in Raymondville, Gonzales said.

“I don’t know how much good a petition will do,” he said. “You have to understand it’s a corporate decision. For now, they’re going with the decision they made.”

Gonzales said news of the store’s closing has stunned area residents nearly a year after the Willacy County Correctional Center shut down, laying off 400 employees.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Gonzales said.

Many residents, he said, also continue to struggle in the wake of October storms that flooded the area.

“It’s a big blow to the community,” he said of the store’s closing. “We took a big blow with the prison. We took a big blow with the flooding. Then bang, here comes Walmart.”

Officials are working with a vocational school to offer laid-off Walmart workers a continuing education program, Gonzales said.

Friday, Walmart announced it would close the store Jan. 28.

Gonzalez said the Raymondville store employs 110 people, about 55 of whom are full-time.

Officials did not have information readily available on the amount of sales tax revenue the store generates.

But they projected the store would bank about $400,000 in annual sales tax revenue when it opened in 2005.

Gonzalez said the loss of sales tax revenue will force city budget cuts.

It appears Walmart created loyal customers in this rural community.

For years, the retailer operated a small store at the Raymondville Plaza, generating about $140,000 in annual sales tax revenue there.

Then in 2005, Walmart closed the store when it opened its Supercenter near the intersection of FM 490 and Interstate 69.

Walmart’s decision to close the store comes as Raymondville and Willacy County struggle in the wake of last March’s closure of the Willacy County Correctional Center.

The layoffs helped drive Willacy County’s unemployment rate to 12.8 percent in November, the Valley’s second-highest jobless rate behind Starr County’s 13.7 percent.

The so-called tent-city prison laid off 400 employees, about half of whom live in Willacy County, officials said.

The prison’s closure plunged Willacy County into a financial crisis, slashing $2.7 million from the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget.

As county commissioners tried to offset a monthly $220,000 shortfall, budget cuts eliminated about 25 jobs, forcing 16 layoffs.

In Raymondville, the closure of the 3,000-bed prison led officials to slash about $600,000 to offset a plunge in water sales.

Raymondville officials projected the prison’s closure would lead to annual losses of about $130,000 to $140,000 in sales tax revenue.