Owings Mills Sam's Club closes and 169 lose jobs

A Sam’s Club store in Owings Mills closed abruptly on Thursday, part of a wave of closures of the membership warehouse stores across the country.

The retailer notified the state that 169 people will lose their jobs with the closure of the store at 9750 Reisterstown Road, according to a filing with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. confirmed in a statement Thursday night that it was closing 63 Sam’s Club stores and converting up to 12 of them to e-commerce distribution centers.

The company said the closures were made following a “thorough performance review,” but officials did not offer details on how they evaluated store performance.

“Transforming our business means managing our real estate portfolio and Walmart needs a strong fleet of Sam’s Clubs that are fit for the future,” Sam’s Club CEO John Furner said in the statement. “We know this is difficult news for our associates and we are working to place as many of them as possible at nearby locations.”

The closures came the same day that Wal-Mart Stores announced it would raise its entry-level wage to $11 per hour and offer bonuses to store employees.

The total number of Sam’s Club workers who are losing their jobs was not disclosed. The workers still will receive the bonuses announced earlier in the day. They’ll also receive 60 days of pay as well as severance pay for those who are eligible.

The first Sam’s Club that will be converted to a distribution center is in Memphis, Tenn. The company did not name any others.

The first Sam’s Club store opened in 1983, and the company had 660 stores employing 100,000 workers in the United States as of last fall.

The Walmart store adjacent to the Owings Mills Sam’s Club remained open on Thursday.

The closure of Sam’s Club runs counter to the retail development boom in that part of the county. Owings Mills has experienced major developments in recent years, including the Wegman’s-anchored Foundry Row less than a mile from the Sam’s Club and the transit-oriented, mixed-use Metro Centre at Owings Mills.

The old Owings Mills Mall has been demolished, with developers promising to build a retail project called Mill Station that will be anchored by a Costco, a warehouse-style chain similar to Sam’s Club.

In addition to the wage increases and bonuses, Wal-mart Stores said Thursday it plans to expand parental benefits for its workers.

The company, which reported annual revenue of nearly $486 billion in the previous fiscal year, said the wage increases will cost it an additional $300 million in the next fiscal year. The bonuses will cost it about $400 million in this fiscal year, which ends on Jan. 31.

Large employers have been under pressure to boost benefits for workers because unemployment rates are at historic lows, allowing job-seekers to be pickier.

But low unemployment has meant that retailers have had trouble attracting and keeping talented workers, experts said. Walmart employees previously started at $9 an hour, with a bump up to $10 after completing a training program. Target had raised its minimum hourly wage to $11 in October, and said it would raise wages to $15 by the end of 2020.

“They raised the minimum wage because they have to,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said. “The labor market is tight and getting tighter.”

In a letter to employees, Wal-mart CEO Doug McMillon cited the lower business taxes approved by Congress and President Donald J. Trump as enabling the company to “accelerate a few pieces of our investment plan.”

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz seized on the Sam’s Club closure in Owings Mills to criticize Trump, issuing a statement saying the Republican president “lied again” by saying the tax deal would lead to economic growth.

Kamenetz, a Democrat who is running for governor, also said the county would help displaced workers find new jobs.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

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