City stunned

RAYMONDVILLE — When April Torres has her baby, she and her boyfriend won’t have their jobs at Walmart.

On Friday, Walmart will close its Raymondville store, laying off Torres, her boyfriend Efrain Coronado and about 110 other employees.

“Everyone is devastated,” Torres, 19, who’s seven months pregnant, said as she had lunch at Las Mañanitas restaurant in Raymondville.

For more than a year, she’s been making $9 an hour as a cashier, working nearly 40 hours a week to pay her rent and make her car payment.

Walmart officials asked her if she’s willing to transfer to another Rio Grande Valley store. But a job might not open, said Torres, who said the company will pay her wages for two months after the store closes.

Across Willacy County, residents remain stunned Walmart is closing the Supercenter about 10 months after the Willacy County Correctional Center shut down, laying off 400 employees.

“Now where am I going to work?” Torres asked.

A few tables away, Clarence Tidwell said the laid-off workers will have trouble finding jobs in the area struggling with a 13-percent unemployment rate.

“It’s kind of devastating,” said Tidwell, a plumbing company owner.

“It’s quite a few people who lost jobs and they’re hard to get anyway.”

At Walmart, Lawrence Green sat in his pickup truck, gazing at the store that opened in 2005.

“It’s very catastrophic between this and the prison,” said Green, a retired firefighter. “I don’t know how much longer the area can take it.

“They lost 500 to 600 jobs in an area this size. It’s got to put the hurt on. I think a lot of people are depressed. People bought new cars expecting jobs to be here — and they’re gone.”

In the parking lot, Homer and Janie Vela wondered about the area’s future.

“It’s a big impact county-wide,” Homer Vela, a former county correctional officer, said of the store’s closing after the prison shut down.

“A lot are in disbelief. We’re hoping it will advance and catch up with other cities but we’re going down.”

Janie Vela blamed local leaders.

“I don’t think the officials have done enough to bring in jobs,” said Janie Vela, a home health provider. “We need the city to progress. We need business to develop so people can have jobs. I don’t see a future for Raymondville.”

In Walmart, clearance sales drew customers who walked past rows of empty shelves.

“It’s weird,” said Frances Chapa, a secretary at the Lyford school district. “We still can’t believe it. It’s been here for so many years.”

Like many residents, Chapa knows some of the store’s employees — like her sister-in-law.

“It’s sadness. I feel sorry for the employees,” Chapa said. “Everything’s going down. I don’t know what’s going to happen to Raymondville — the community. There are not going to be any jobs here.”

Like many longtime customers, Irene Johnson will drive 30 miles to Harlingen stores after Walmart closes.

“It makes me sick,” said Johnson, a businesswoman and retired schoolteacher.

“It’s sad to lose all those jobs. I feel terrible. I stop here to get my medicines. People cash their checks here. Now I’ll be going to Harlingen and they’re going to get my taxes. Willacy County is in bad shape with the prison closing and Walmart closing. Our tax base will go down.”

On Jan. 15, Walmart announced it would close Raymondville’s store Jan. 29, laying off about 110 employees.

Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said about 55 employees work full-time.

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.

News of the Raymondville store’s closing came 10 months after the Willacy County Correctional Center shut down, laying off 400 employees.

The prison’s closure plunged Willacy County into a financial crisis, slashing a third of 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.