Sam’s Club Employees, Customers Shocked Over Sudden Closing

The Sam’s Club location at 720 Fairmount Ave. in West Ellicott will close Jan. 26 following a surprise announcement Thursday by the Arkansas-based membership warehouse company. More than 100 employees work at the local store, and were notified of the planned shuttering early Thursday. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

Customers looking to do some bulk shopping at Sam’s Club were left scratching their heads Thursday when they were turned away by store personnel without explanation.

Signs posted on the store’s front doors and gas station said the 720 W. Fairmount Ave. location in West Ellicott would be closed for a day before reopening Friday at 10 a.m. A message on the store’s phone system also indicated the sudden closure, but did not give a reason.

However, rumors quickly spread on social media and later confirmed when reports broke of similar closings without warning at Sam’s Club locations across the country. The membership warehouse company, owned by Wal-Mart, later confirmed it was shutting down or converting 63 stores.

The Fairmount Avenue location will officially close Jan. 26, the company said.

Those hoping to do some weekday shopping on an otherwise unseasonably warm Thursday were left out in the cold.

“The closest one, I guess, is now in Erie (Pennsylvania). I’m not going to drive out there in the winter,” said Ruth Ives, a regular Sam’s Club customer. “At Christmastime, and every other week, I would get paper products and the rotisserie chicken. There are so many things I come in for.”

Susan Den, another frequent customer, said she drove from Lander, Pa., to shop at the West Ellicott location Thursday when she found the front doors locked. She said she just renewed her membership for herself and adult children.

“I used to come in once a week sometimes, or every other week,” Den said. “I used to get gas here. There isn’t any place to shop in Pennsylvania.”

Bill Southwell said he comes from Warren, Pa., to buy bulk candy at Sam’s Club, with peppermint patties as a personal favorite.

“Can I live without (Sam’s Club)? Yes, I can,” Southwell said.

One employee, who wished not to be identified, said workers were told Thursday morning that the store would close for a day before reopening with discounted items for two weeks.

Another employee said he was upset to learn of the sudden closure with no notice in advance. He said some employees have been with the wholesale company for two decades.

Sam’s Club is owned by Wal-Mart with headquarters in Arkansas. In a statement on Twitter, the company said: “After a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we’ve decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy. Closing Clubs is never easy and we’re committed to working with impacted members and associates through this transition.”

Local elected officials also weighed in on Sam’s Club’s shuttering. State Sen. Cathy Young said within hours of the announcement she had received calls from small business owners — including many who operate local restaurants — who expressed concern over the loss. Young noted that many local businesses rely on the wholesaler for supplies.

“Like many in the community, I was alarmed and disheartened to learn of the sudden impending closure of the Sam’s Club in Jamestown,” said Young, R-Olean. “This is a devastating blow to the store’s employees and their families and to our area, which values all of its businesses and works hard to foster strong public-private partnerships.

“This closure has placed their ability to continue to operate in jeopardy,” she said. “I urge the company’s management to reconsider this decision. Those of us who serve at the state and local levels of government stand ready and willing to work together to help find a better solution.”

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