Ed and Barbara Phillips of the Icy Strait Lodge in Hoonah pack their vehicle after taking advantage of the store-closing sales at Walmart on Friday.

Ed and Barbara Phillips of the Icy Strait Lodge in Hoonah pack their vehicle after taking advantage of the store-closing sales at Walmart on Friday.

Rolling out: With Walmart’s closure, uncertainty looms

Juneau’s Walmart has been packed since it announced it was closing up shop on Feb. 4.

On Friday, the first day of a 50-percent-off sale on all merchandise, a perpetual stream of shoppers practically formed two single file lines, one entering and one exiting the building.

It was so busy shopping carts weren’t even available.

“Excuse, miss,” one woman said to another pushing a full shopping cart toward her car in the parking lot. “Can I use your cart when you’re done?”

The woman in need of a cart then followed the other woman back to her car and waited as she unloaded her bags before taking the cart and heading into the busy store.

Every checkout lane was open, and the lines meandered toward the back of the building.

It’s hard to believe that in less than two weeks, the store will be almost empty, and all 168 of the store’s employees will be without jobs. Only a small team of employees will remain in the building after the store closes to the public, working to remove whatever merchandise still remains.

The economic impact of the closure is still unknown. It’s also uncertain how the change will affect the city.

“This is the largest layoff in Juneau in recent history,” Department of Labor spokesperson Heather Beaty said. “I think it’s safe to say this is an unusual instance that doesn’t happen often.”

City employees are just beginning to work on figuring out how the sudden closure will affect the city.

“Right now, I’m listing all of the questions that need to be answered,” City Finance Director Bob Bartholomew said. “To answer them is going to take some analysis, and it’s going to take time.”

So far, three big questions are on his list: How will the closure impact Walmart employees? How will it impact city tax revenue? And how, if at all, will it impact the overall economy of Juneau?

 

Economic impact

In 2014, the third largest employment sector in Juneau was retail trade, which accounted for 11 percent of all jobs, according to DOL and Juneau Economic Development Council data. About 1,900 people worked retail jobs, earning an average monthly salary of about $2,400. Walmart employees make up about 9 percent of the city’s entire retail sector.

Bartholomew said that the only way to determine whether the closure will impact the city’s sales tax revenue is to first determine what percentage of Walmart’s sales will transfer to other stores in the area and what percentage will dry up completely.

Only time will tell how this will unfold, but JEDC Director Brian Holst thinks that most sales will transfer.

He told the Chamber of Commerce recently that it’s safe to assume that all of Walmart’s grocery sales will transfer to other nearby stores. It’s clothing and other such merchandise that people may turn to online retailers for.

“There could be an impact on our sales tax, but we don’t anticipate it to be a large one,” he said.

As far as property tax revenue for the city is concerned, the city is in the clear for at least another year, Bartholomew said. Although Walmart is the city’s ninth largest single source of property tax revenue, property tax assessments are set on Jan. 1, which means Walmart will have to pay the $163,000 in property taxes that it owes in the next fiscal year.

 

Employee impact

Effective April 15, 168 Walmart employees will be without jobs if they don’t transfer to another Walmart location. The nearest Walmart is about 300 miles away in Ketchikan. At that point, eligible employees (both part-time and full-time) will receive severance pay to the tune of one week per year served.

According to Holst, no one single company in Juneau has enough openings to take in all of the Walmart employees who will be without jobs. The DOL is working to help Walmart employees find new positions.

It will be holding a “Mini Job Fair” on Friday at the Gruening Park Recreation Room. Fred Meyer, Safeway, IGA and Home Depot will all be there. The department will also be hosting Walmart Worker Meetings daily at the Juneau Job Center, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., to help employees build résumés, train for interviews and file for unemployment benefits. These meeting will run from Feb. 1 through Feb. 12 excluding the weekend.

In the meantime, Holst said that is important that no Walmart employee quits his or her job, for risk of losing their unemployment benefits.

There is at least one silver lining for Walmart employees, according to Holst.

“The timing of the April 15 date is fortunate because that’s when our retail sector really ramps up,” he said.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or at sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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