Walmart in Lebanon celebrates its 30th anniversary, a community testifies | Local

Oregon’s first Walmart turned 30 last week when Lebanese store #1775 celebrated the anniversary in the only way possible – to a cheer from Walmart.

The store leaves its indelible mark of nearly 190,000 square feet in Lebanon’s 30-year corporate culture, in which some mom-and-pop retailers have survived three recessions competing alongside the giant, others closing for good. , calling the store arrival also bad for business.

As dozens of cheering and shouting workers rose Tuesday, March 8, from folding seats somewhere between cooking utensils and collapsible basketball hoops, three of them thought back to three decades of working in blue vests.

There from the start

Shelly Mabe was 19 and a student at Linn-Benton Community College when she boarded up before the store opened for public at midnight on March 1, 1992, she said. The Sweet Home resident said it wasn’t her first job and it wasn’t meant to be her last.

Some don’t believe they’ll stay at Walmart for long, joining the turnover of historically minimum-wage or near-minimum-wage jobs en route to other prospects. Mabe thought she was going to be one of them.

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She started as a front-line worker in the baby clothing and accessories department, then moved into overnight storage, managing the electronics department for five years and ultimately a store management employee for over six years.

“The days went on,” Mabe said.

The store employs 280 people, a mix of full-time and part-time workers.

Like others in the store, she enthusiastically recounted how Lebanon became the first to make a sale, barely overtaking its sister store in Klamath Falls at midnight as associates pressed early buyers through the ledger to save the historical transaction.

Mabe said the perks, like a 6% match on her retirement savings, got her moving up in the business before she wanted to spend more time with her family. She returned to a supervisor job behind the scenes, packing returned items and assessing whether they are broken or missing before sending them to a warehouse.

Her name tag read 20 and she was about to get a new tag that read 30. Some, she said, have 50-year-old labels. One day, his name might be among theirs in the internal newsletters that mark long career anniversaries.

“More than likely,” Mabe said. “There are only 20 left, right?”

A push into small towns

Thirty years ago, there were just two Walmart stores in Oregon, with Lebanon’s and Klamath Falls among a nascent push by the company in a Western market that included Idaho and Washington. Store #1775 was just that – the 1,775th Walmart store.

Walmart already had a presence in 48 states and was in its 30th year of spreading from Arkansas to the rural United States with plans to land in small towns where its stores would face little competition from other retailers in big surface.

George HW Bush presented company founder Sam Walton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom that year. Walton died the following month in April 1992.

The company now has 4,626 Walmarts and 5,342 stores in total including Sam’s Club and other brands. The company employs 1.6 million people in the United States

Potential associates looking for work on the company’s website will find job postings for Walmarts in cities named Lebanon in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia.

Walmart made about $560 billion in 2021 with total adjusted earnings of about $22.5 billion. Shareholders saw an increase per share of $5.48.

In 2021, Bloomberg called the Walton family the richest in the world and reported their combined wealth at $238.2 billion, including a 48% stake in the company.

Training effects

Meanwhile, the US Government Accountability Office reported in 2020 that Walmart and McDonald’s employ the most workers who receive benefits for those at or below the poverty line, such as Medicaid or food stamps, effectively subsidizing the businesses with taxpayers’ money.

Tightly monitored inventory, highly efficient distribution chains, and the opening of stores in areas where workers are happy to apply for minimum wage positions have kept the company’s prices low, stores in demand, and they have continued to spread.

The consequence is that smaller local businesses with higher prices must offer something Walmart doesn’t or go out of business – a local market driver often called the Walmart effect.

The former owners of Ricke’s Sporting Goods appeared on “The Phil Donahue Show” in 1996 to talk about small business survival. Ricke has put in a range of firearms to differentiate itself from big retailers, said Lebanon Chamber of Commerce executive director Rebecca Grizzle.

In 2004, Ricke’s was for sale.

The following year, co-owner Betsy Duncan told the Lebanon Express that her hardware store was better off thanks to Walmart, ditching general merchandise that couldn’t compete with the big box and focusing on her basic hardware products.

“We definitely consider ourselves Walmart survivors,” Duncan said.

Grizzle owes part of his political career to the store. The room manager worked for a few years as a personnel manager at the store, then crossed paths with his heritage in 2003 as Walmart prepared to build a larger Supercenter-branded store, adding groceries and leaving his old site.

Lebanon Walmart, outlet 2

The development has spurred local government drama with city councilors appearing to block public conversation about the store and representatives from local grocery stores denouncing the pressure the new Supercenter would put on other retailers.

A group called Friends of Linn County appealed the land use permits granted to Walmart in 2003, first to the Land Use Appeal Board and then to the Oregon Court of Appeals . The state denied the appeals, giving the green light to Walmart’s expanded store.

The building that served as a former Walmart reopened as the River Center in 2006.

Former city councilwoman Grizzle said she ran because she disagreed with how her representative, a member of the minority against Walmart’s plans, had used the public process to block the ‘expansion.

Nearly 20 years later, Grizzle said, the retail giant isn’t competing with companies that have specialized around big retailer pressure.

“Pressure from a Walmart really causes a company to rethink its strategy,” she said.

Downtown stores had to improve the quality of their offerings, she said, or offer something Walmart didn’t. She said furniture stores and others that have moved will likely sooner or later.

“Long before Walmart came along, their merchandise was dusty,” she said.

Grizzle used the clothes as an example: “Yes, they have women’s clothes, but maybe I want high-end clothes,” she said.

Grizzle resigned his seat on the council representing Ward 2 in 2021 after leaving the district.

While the city absolutely had its share of the business when Walmart arrived, it’s impossible to accurately gauge its impact over 30 years, said Cassie Cruze, program manager for the Lebanon Downtown Association.

She acknowledged that downtown storefronts generally turned into a rotating hub of antique businesses as buildings fell into disrepair during the 2000s.

As investment returned to small town centers in Oregon through grants, strategic plans and, Cruz said, a desire for something other than Walmart, the businesses that opened and endured showed more diversity. .

Downtown has become less about going to the neighborhood furniture store and more about walking from restaurant to restaurant and displaying artwork in public. Cruze said newly opened businesses, like cafes and craft breweries and longtime staples like jewelry stores, show what Downtown can do that Walmart can’t.

“It signals success to the public,” she said.

Alex Powers covers business, environment and healthcare for Mid-Valley Media. Contact him at 541-812-6116 or [email protected]