fill empty Sardis store

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 20, 2016

Sardis Mayor Billy Russell has made a trip to Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. and had numerous telephone conversations with that company’s officials. But he is frustrated with the lack of urgency offered by that company to help find an occupant after his town bent over backwards to assist the company to open their store on time. The Panolian photo by Rupert Howell

Search continues to fill empty Sardis store 

By Rupert Howell
Sardis Mayor Billy Russell said he is getting frustrated with the Walmart Corporation while being anxious to get another grocery store in the new building that the company built and abandoned earlier this year.

The Sardis Walmart Express was one of 110 constructed, all of which were closed when the company found the small store concept was not as profitable as other stores.

The Sardis store opened amid cheers December 17, 2014 with approximately 40 employed.
High praise came from a population who had been without a grocery store in their town for a long while—having to drive to Batesville or Senatobia for serious grocery shopping. Officials were also thankful for sudden increase in tax revenue after the store opened.

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Area residents were shocked to hear less than 13 months later that their store would be one of six Mississippi locations to close as part of 269 Walmart stores closing globally with the last day scheduled for January 28 of this year, despite being one of the top 10 performing Express stores out of 110, according to Russell.

“I’m getting frustrated with them (Walmart). When they needed us (the Town of Sardis) to move fast, we moved—changing ordinances and things so they could open on time,” Russell said while explaining steps taken to try and put a similar business in the location.

Russell knows what he wants in the new location stating, “If it’s not a grocery store, I don’t want it. Of course, I might not have a choice.”

He said the five other Mississippi towns that lost their Walmart Express stores have some sort of grocery store.
The Sardis Mayor said he was told during the store’s closing that a large chain had an interest in purchasing some of the properties and would have first choice of which stores they wanted. Those not sold to the chain would be sold to others and a real estate agent was named for the Mississippi stores Russell explained.
The Mayor said both he and the agent have potential buyers interested but they can’t proceed until Walmart gives the go-ahead after dealing with the large unnamed chain.

“When they tell you they are going to do something by the end of March and it’s the middle of May and you don’t know anything, that’s frustrating,” said Russell who also said he calls the corporate headquarters at least every other week and made a trip to corporate headquarters in  Bentonville, Ark. earlier this year.

His last two emails have gone unanswered he said while stating, “The don’t communicate…They don’t act like they care for any communities they’ve done that way.”

Sardis Chamber of Commerce President Chris Fletcher said not including the 40 jobs lost when Walmart left, three businesses shuttered when Walmart came to town including a meat market, drug store and dollar store.
Those closings on top for three antique stores closing on Main Street and a restaurant’s downsizing has left a lot of empty buildings in the Sardis business district.

Responses from from Walmart headquarters continue to be the same— “We’re working on it. Give us another couple of weeks,” Russell said.

Meanwhile the city’s budget preparation time is drawing near and city officials will have to decide what and how much of which departments to cut caused by the decreasing amount of sales tax collected.

A replacement business cannot open fast enough.