News that Sam’s Club at 9750 Reisterstown Road was closing its doors immediately caught members of the community, customers and elected officials by surprise. Some 169 employees were out of a job with little or no notice.
One unaware employee who showed up for work at the Owings Mills warehouse club appeared annoyed that he did not get the notice that he no longer had a job. Shoppers who stopped to pick up groceries and other goods were stunned to see television cameras, reporters and security officers on the mostly-empty parking lot as they approached the front door.
People who came to pick up prescriptions were escorted into the pharmacy, which is to remain open through Jan. 26. Cases of water stacked high on plats near the front door blocked the view of those who tried to peer inside the store. A sign informed that the store was closed for the day and that Sam’s regrets any inconvenience.
Outside, others huddled to share notes about what they had heard. They lamented that they would have to travel to the Route 40 or Timonium stores to shop. A representative from Lowe’s was handing out flyers that it was hiring. (Elected officials had announced last year that Lowe’s would be coming to the former site of the Owings Mills Mall, but Kimco Realty will not confirm it.)
On Jan. 11, Sam’s Club announced it was closing 63 of its warehouse clubs nationwide and converting 12 of them to ecommerce fulfillment centers. The Reisterstown Road location was the only club closing in Maryland. Locations in Catonsville, Golden Ring and Timonium will remain open.
Earlier in the day, Wal-Mart Stores, Sam’s parent company, announced good news. Giving credit to the recently signed tax reform plan, Wal-Mart officials reported plans to increase its starting wage for all hourly associates in the U.S. to $11, expand maternity and parental leave benefits and provide a one-time cash bonus for eligible associates of up to $1,000, with the maximum going to those with 20 or more years of service. Wal-Mart is also creating a new benefit to assist associates with adoption expenses.
In a statement, president and CEO John Furner said, “After thorough review, it became clear we had built clubs in some locations that impacted other clubs, and where population had not grown as anticipated.” The company is working to place as many of [employees] as possible at nearby locations, and Walmart will provide support and resources to those associates who are affected, including the just-announced bonus and 60 days of pay, as well as severance to those eligible.
Local resident Earl Divers took issue with the way the closing was done. “Walmart gave their employees a raise and bonuses. And then you turn around and do this to these [Sam’s Club] employees,” he said. “It’s sad. It’s a sad way to conduct our economy.”
Pikesville residents Art and Muriel Shefrin just purchased an annual membership weeks ago. “We shop here at least four times a month,” Art said. “This was a mainstay for many years. We’re very disappointed.” Muriel said she comes for the rotisserie chicken. “Where are I am going to get my Sam’s chicken?” she asked.
Because of Sam’s bulk purchasing, businesses will also be impacted. Tony Illiano, president of Vito’s Pizza, said he and brother come to Sam’s when they run out of items for their restaurant, which is located a short distance away at St. Thomas Shopping Center. “Something else should locate here. It’s a nice store and it’s centrally located and serves a lot of people.”
County officials pledged their support. “I am reaching out to Walmart to make sure they live up to their responsibilities to assist employees at Sam’s Club who have worked hard to benefit the company,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. “The county will also provide assistance in securing jobs for these hard working people to keep them from the unemployment line.”
Councilwoman Vicki Almond, in whose District 2 the store is located, expressed regret. “I am so sorry that so many people have lost their jobs and I hope that Walmart will do everything within their power to place these employees in other Sam’s Club or Walmart locations.” Almond added, “I would like to see those jobs stay in Baltimore County and sincerely hope they consider Owings Mills for one of their distribution centers.
Among the warehouse clubs in the area is a B.J.s on Music Fair Road. Next year a Costco will open at Mill Station. A Walmart sits adjacent to Sam’s on Reisterstown Road.