Impacts expected from closures

Published 4:00 am Sunday, August 9, 2015

MESSENGER PHOTO/COURTNEY PATTERSON Workers roamed the stores to find items that could be salvaged, storing them in shopping carts outside of the store. Roughly 20 carts were outside the store.

Workers roamed the stores to find items that could be salvaged, storing them in shopping carts outside of the store. Roughly 20 carts were outside the store.

With more than 2,000 students checking into dorms this weekend and a tax-free shopping holiday declared in Alabama, the closure of the Walmart Supercenter loomed large on Friday.

“It’s going to have an impact,” Herbert Reeves, dean of students at Troy University, said of the closing of the store in the wake of a Thursday night tornado.

More than 2,200 students are expected to check into on-campus dorms beginning today, with thousands more moving into rental properties throughout the community. And those students will be buying everything from shower curtains to groceries to bedding to school supplies.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We’re going to send an email to our incoming students to let them know about the tornado last night and the damage to the Walmart location,” Reeves said Friday afternoon. “If they’ve got something they feel like they can’t get at one of our local stores, then we’re encouraging them to get it on the way to Troy.”

Officials did not know when the Walmart Supercenter might reopen, so Reeves said the university would make adjustments to direct students to as many other local retail locations as possible, particularly through its shopping shuttle. The shuttle runs three times each week, taking hundreds of students to shopping locations throughout the community. One of the most popular stops has traditionally been the Walmart center on U.S. 231 South, since students could shop for pharmacy, household, clothing and grocery items in one place.

“We’re trying our best to utilize the other stores now and to let our students know to do so,” Reeves said.

Steve Garrett, owner of the Piggly Wiggly store just down U.S. 231 from Walmart, was already feeling the impacts on Friday afternoon.

“This is one of those times you wish you had extra people,” Garrett said, adding that shoppers were “backed up six and seven deep at the registers.”

“We are handling it the best we can,” he said. “And we’ve been working with the vendors who normally service Walmart to take some of their products over here and at the other (Piggly Wiggly) stores …

“We’re going to do the best we can to take care of the people.”

Besides food products, school supplies are expected to be in high demand this weekend as the annual tax-free back to school shopping holiday continues through Sunday night. Troy Mayor Jason Reeves said the closure of the Walmart store could have a significant impact on sales tax revenues that benefit city and county governments as well as Troy Regional Medical Center and city and county school systems.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that August is our second biggest sales tax revenue month, trailing only December,” the mayor said. “You have students at the university coming in and setting up household, and you’ve got back-to–school shopping going on at the same time. And even during the tax free holiday, your sales tax revenues are up because many items being purchased are not tax exempt.”

Reeves said Walmart is the single biggest generator of sales tax revenue in the city, “so it will be a substantial impact.”

Students at nearby Pike Liberal Arts School returned to class on Friday despite the school suffereing minor damage from the storm.

“We’d been working really, really hard to get everything ready for the first day,” said Pike Liberal Arts Headmaster Becky Baggett. “Then I got a phone call at about 10:30 (Thursday) night, saying that Walmart had just been hit. My first thought was ‘Oh no, we’re on the hill (behind the shopping center).’”

Baggett said she called a coach who lives nearby so she could know what had happened before she arrived.

“I came over and assessed the damage,” Baggett said. “It did pretty much tear up the backstop at the baseball field. It took a small section of the outfield wall and took the championship sign down. It took a cook shed that we had beside a concession stand. It destroyed it. The only building damage that I have seen is a leak in the high school building in the hallway. It’s a minimal one, but it lifted some tin there.”

Baggett said overall they had all been blessed that the school had not suffered anymore damage than what it did, and students were able to begin classes Friday as expected despite the damage.