Portland Walmart’s closures are drawing national attention

Walmart announced last month it would close its two Portland stores, but it’s attracted another round of attention this week as politicians spar online about the cause.

The retail giant will lay off 580 employees when its stores close on March 24, according to regulatory disclosures.

Here are five things you should know about the closures.

Why is Walmart closing its stores in Portland?

When announcing the closure, Walmart said little more than that its stores had failed to meet financial expectations.

“There’s no reason for a store to close,” Lauren Willis, a Walmart spokesperson, told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “We take a thorough look at how a store is performing and weigh many factors before making the difficult decision to close a facility.”

Walmart has also announced store closures in Arkansas this year; Washington, DC; Florida; Illinois; New Mexico; and Wisconsin, according to Insider. It also has no specific reasons for the closures elsewhere.

Why is this getting so much attention now?

Another round of news reports stated that Walmart is closing all of its Portland stores. And it’s effectively closing the two within the city limits.

The company continues to operate stores in the metro area, including Gresham, Happy Valley, Milwaukie, West Linn and Vancouver.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott over the weekend aimed at Portland on the issue, saying the shutdown is “what happens when cities refuse to uphold the rule of law”.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler fired back on Mondaynoting that dozens of Texas stores have closed in recent years, adding, “The retail industry is changing and shoplifting is a national problem.”

What Role Did Crime Play in Walmart’s Closing?

Absent confirmation from Walmart, it’s hard to say. The company’s CEO told CNBC in December that shoplifting could force price increases or store closures.

Cody Bowman, a spokesman for Wheeler, said the company had not filed any requests with the mayor’s office regarding shoplifting.

However, other major retailers have asked the city to crack down on shoplifting. Nike recently attempted to hire off-duty police to provide security as it reopened a temporarily closed store, a proposal the city rejected as not feasible given the police department’s workforce. And a wider coalition of retailers has called for a more reliable police response to reports of theft and prosecution of alleged shoplifters.

Wheeler has said that retailers allow their security staff to detain suspected shoplifters until police arrive, a practice many retailers avoid because of potential legal liability. However, Walmart detains shoplifters, Bowman said.

Willis, the Walmart spokesperson, said the Portland Police Department was “a great partner and we are very grateful for their efforts to fight crime in this store.”

What is the history of Walmart in Portland?

The Eastport Plaza store in Southeast Portland opened in the mid-1990s and expanded in 2011 to include a grocery section. The North Portland location near Delta Park opened in 2013.

It had proposed new Portland stores twice in the intervening years, one in Sellwood and one on Hayden Island. Both locations met fierce opposition from neighbors and from Sam Adams, the city commissioner who would later become Portland’s mayor, who said the company treated its employees badly.

Walmart also closed a small technology office in Portland this year.

What about the rest of Oregon?

Walmart operates 45 stores in Oregon — including about a dozen in the Portland metro area but outside the city limits — and the company said no other closures are planned.

— The Oregonian/OregonLive

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