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Wal-Mart's Closures Leave Small Towns Without Convenience


Wal-Mart is pulling out of some small towns, 154 outlets in the U.S., 102 of which are Wal-Mart Express stores. They stock groceries, pharmaceuticals and serve many small towns throughout the South. For many of those towns, Wal-Mart Express has been the only grocery store and pharmacy. The retailer says it's closing stores to strengthen its supercenters and its online business. Oriental, N.C., a town of about 900, lost its Wal-Mart Express this week. Sally Belangia is the mayor. Mayor Belangia, thanks so much for being with us.

SALLY BELANGIA: Yes, thank you.

SIMON: Tell us about Oriental. What kind of town is it?

BELANGIA: Oriental is the most beautiful place, and we are called the sailing capital of North Carolina because we must have 2,500 sailboats and 900 people.

SIMON: Oriental is a healthy town it sounds like.

BELANGIA: Oh, yeah, we're a booming town. And our community is so wonderful. Our churches were all coming together to try to get something solved. Like, there's people that don't have a driver's license, or they've got to have their medicine, so our local church has got a van, and we're going to get people their groceries and medicine. So we have all kind of volunteering to get something going.

SIMON: When did the Wal-Mart Express move into town?

BELANGIA: May of 2014.

SIMON: Wasn't open very long, was it?

BELANGIA: No, it wasn't. They said it was an experiment.

SIMON: I don't expect you to make any effort to understand Wal-Mart's point of view. We've done a number of these interviews over the years, and people complain when Wal-Mart's open. And so now they're closing. Can you see from their point of view? You're saying that, you know, Wal-Mart might say people complain whatever we do. They just don't like us.

BELANGIA: Well, I feel like they're such a big corporation that they're not really concerned. I just hope they will do something that someone will be able to afford to buy it. But we were told that 20 of them, which is one of Oriental's, will be sold, not to an individual person. They want to sell the whole block to a chain or someone really big. And, you know, we may have someone local that wants to buy it.

SIMON: Yeah, so let's say you want to run out and get a loaf of bread, some milk, smoked tofu (laughter) - this is NPR after all - and 81-milligram aspirin.

BELANGIA: (Laughter).

SIMON: Where do you go?

BELANGIA: I'm going to have to go to Food Lion, which is 15 miles away, or the Piggly Wiggly.

SIMON: Which is how far away?

BELANGIA: Fifteen miles, and there's also a Wal-Mart, a big Wal-Mart, but I'm not going to that.

SIMON: Yeah, on principal, right?


SIMON: Well, Mayor Belangia, good luck. I hope I see Oriental someday. It sounds like a lovely place.

BELANGIA: Please do. You will fall in love with it.

SIMON: And I'll bring a loaf of bread for you.

BELANGIA: (Laughter) OK.

SIMON: Sally Belangia, mayor of Oriental, N.C., thanks so much.

BELANGIA: Thank you.

SIMON: We asked Wal-Mart for more details on selling that property in Oriental, and they said that they're working with potential buyers and hope to expedite the process. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.