Walmart closing Clinton outlet

Big-box store contributed to decline of downtown square, but now succumbs to competition from Amazon

 Walmart will close its Clinton store July 20. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Walmart will close its Clinton store July 20. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Clinton is bracing for the loss of a Walmart, its only general retail store.

Walmart announced June 20 that it would shutter its 35,000-square-foot Clinton store a month later. Efforts to avert or simply delay the closing have not succeeded.

"It's official," said Clinton City Administrator Timothy Followell on Thursday. "They will be closing on the 20th."

According to Followell, it means the loss of about 75 jobs in a town that registered just over 7,000 people in the 2010 census, as well as an estimated $100,000 in annual tax revenue. "Any time you lose that many jobs it has an impact," he said. Not all the employees lived in Clinton, but all lived in surrounding DeWitt County, so they're "still our family members, let's put it that way," he added.

"That's a huge impact," Followell said. "But the bigger impact is losing the pharmacy."

Followell said Walmart had a corporate relationship with Humana that was key to local Medicaid recipients. The shift to local Walgreens or CVS outlets will be "more cumbersome," he said, with potential price hikes for prescriptions as well.

Walmart said employees would be paid through August. But hours are already being reduced as employees move on to other jobs and the store inventory dwindles. As of Thursday, the Walmart, at 10 Clinton Plaza, was selling everything at 25 percent off, with all sales final.

Walmart opened the store in 1983, and some blamed it for the decline of Clinton's downtown square, but Followell said that was overblown.

"I'm a lifer," he said. "In fact, I've worked for the city longer than Walmart has been here."

According to Followell, many of the so-called mom & pop stores in the area were never locally owned to begin with.

"I'm a firm believer that the malls started the depletion of the downtown business district," he said. "Walmart was the tip of the iceberg and maybe escalated it, but it certainly wasn't the sole culprit."

Clinton is located between Bloomington-Normal and Decatur, both of which have extensive malls, but Followell added that those malls were seeing times pass them by as well now.

"E-commerce is the newest thing that's taking a toll on the malls and the Walmarts and the Targets," he said. "Give credit where credit is due. Amazon is capitalizing on a huge market right now out there, and that's the reason they're going like gangbusters in that sector."

A recent Supreme Court decision compelled internet sites to pay state sales taxes for wherever goods were being shipped, but Followell pointed out that didn't help recoup local taxes, saying, "That probably won't or will take forever to trickle down to the local level."

Followell did not expect a resurgence of small businesses in response. "Can mom & pops combat that?" Followell said. "Probably not."

For now, he added, Clinton has a Dollar General and a Dollar Tree, but nothing to match the goods available at a big-box store like Walmart, even if the Clinton outlet was the chain's smallest store in the state.

Still, Followell said it's a standing resource for some other store to take its place, and the town is working to recruit a suitable outlet. "Hopefully," he said, "we can find someone to fill that void."