Cleared out: Raymondville Walmart shutters its doors

RAYMONDVILLE — A crane plucked big neon letters from the walls yesterday.

It was the final act of closing Walmart’s Raymondville store, where 149 people worked.

But there’s some OK news.

The world’s largest retailer has offered transfers to other Walmart stores to 90 percent of employees here, Workforce Solutions spokeswoman Laura Cavazos said yesterday.

However, officials have not determined the number of employees who have accepted Walmart’s jobs nor the jobs’ locations.

Cavazos said Workforce Solutions also will hold a job fair Feb. 4 to help laid-off employees find work.

Locals were still talking about the closure and its impact.

“I knew quite a few people who worked there,” Philip Nyquist said yesterday morning as he pumped gas at the Murphy USA station on Walmart’s bare parking lot. “It really hurts a lot of people around here.”

The store’s closing comes about 10 months after the Willacy County Correctional Center shut down, laying off 400 employees.

“Walmart and the prison were a big home to a lot of jobs and brought job security to a lot of people who had jobs in town,” said Nyquist, who works for the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation.

Danah Lozano said the laid-off employees join her in search of jobs in this area that struggles with a 13 percent unemployment rate.

“There are not that many jobs opening for that many people. There are not that many jobs in Raymondville,” said Lozano, who left her job as a medical assistant last week because of her 40-mile drive to Edinburg.

“I was wasting my money on gas,” Lozano said.

Longtime community leader Russell Klostermann said the store’s closing will impact the tax rolls in this rural farming region.

“It’s going to be a definite loss to the community — our tax base, jobs gone,” said Klostermann, a Stillman farmer. “A lot of jobs will be missed. It’s a small community. Everyone knows everyone here.”

Arturo Hernandez said he was concerned lost revenue would force cuts in law enforcement.

“We haven’t adjusted to the prison closure and this is coming. It’s not easy,” said Hernandez, a tractor mechanic from Raymondville. “There are going to be cutbacks. I’m concerned about safety. We’re low on security. Decisions have to be made on how to protect the community.”

Like other residents, Hernandez said the community counted on Walmart for most of its shopping.

“It’s been very convenient for all of us,” Hernandez said. “It was like several stores in one. They carry a bit of most everything.”

In Willacy County, Walmart was the only store that sold clothing, Klostermann said.

“There’s no place to go in Willacy County to buy a pair of shoes,” Klostermann said as he gazed at his worn boots. “There’s no dry goods store.”

Now, Willacy County residents will have to drive 30 minuets to Harlingen to do much of their shopping, Hernandez said.

“Now, we have to put our tax money elsewhere — mostly in Harlingen,” Hernandez said.

On Jan. 15, Walmart announced it would close Raymondville’s store along with 268 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 workers.

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.

In Raymondville, Walmart’s closing will cut into the city’s annual $1.4 million sales tax collection.

But officials will not determine the loss of sales tax dollars until the state Comptroller’s Office releases the city’s February sales tax collection in about two months.