In West Virginia, the people of McDowell County cant get jobs, and recently lost their biggest employer the local Walmart store. They describe the devastating loss of jobs, community and access to fresh food
When Walmart left town, it didnt linger over the goodbyes. It slashed the prices on all its products, stripped the shelves bare, and vanished, leaving behind only the ghostly shadow of its famous brand name and gold star logoon the front wall of a deserted shell.
The departure was so quick that telltale signs remain of the getaway, like smoldering ashes in the fireplaces of an evacuated town. Notices still taped to the glass entranceway record with tombstone-like precision the exact moment that the supercenter was shuttered: Store closed at 7pm, Thursday 28 January 2016.
Ten years. Thats all the time it took for the store to rise up in a clearing of the lush forest of West Virginias coal country and then disappear again, as though it had never been there.
But for the people of McDowell County proud country folk laboring under the burdens of high unemployment, low income and endemic ill health even such a fleeting visit to this rural backwater by the worlds largest retailer had a profound impact. Both in the arrival, and in the hasty leaving.
Wanda Church was present for both of these book-ends of the Walmart story one of a few workers who helped set up the store in October 2005 and then gut it 10 years, three months and two days later. She remembers the feeling of excitement and expectation as they stocked the supercenter for the very first time, turning it in just 20 days from an empty building into a teeming cathedral of retail capitalism.
It was amazing what we were able to do, stocking the shelves from nothing to full in such a short time, she said, talking as she waited for her car to be repaired at a gas station over the road from the disused store. As if to underscore her enduring attachment to the corporation, she was wearing one of her old Walmart T-shirts.
She was there at the supercenter too on that fateful day last year when she and her fellow Walmart workers walked out of the store for the last time. We were all crying. It was a sad day for a lot of people. It was a sad day for me I spent more of those 10 years at Walmart than I did at my own home.