Sam's Club abruptly closes in Seattle, Renton, Auburn

The Sam’s Club locations in Seattle, Renton and Auburn abruptly closed Thursday, part of unannounced closures at Sam’s Club locations in several states.

The closures affect 495 workers in Western Washington.

Voice messages at the Seattle store, at 13550 Aurora Ave N., and the Renton location, at 901 S. Grady Way, and in Auburn, at 1101 Outlet Collection Way, said they would be reopening at 10 a.m. the next day, Friday Jan. 12.

But the company announced Thursday afternoon that 63 Sam’s Club locations were closing across the U.S. Some employees learned when they found a notice on locked doors.

A call to a company spokesman about the King County locations was not returned. But a spokeswoman for parent company Walmart, Anne Hatfield, told the San Antonio Express-News the last day for a Texas location would be January 26.

Walmart leaders said they'd provide support and resources to the associates affected nationwide, including bonuses and 60 days of pay, as well as severance to eligible employees.

In Western Washington, locals are worried about the trickle-down effect of the closures.

The Salvation Army runs Renton’s biggest food bank and provides food for 500 to 600 clients weekly.

"Probably the majority of our fresh produce comes from Sam's Club," said Lt. Susan Cassin. "Sam's Club gifts us about 19,000 pounds of food a month, which is a huge deal." 
Cassin said other organizations will step up to fill the need. But in the meantime, the food bank may need to decrease the amount that goes into each family's food box.
"At this point we're just going to evaluate what we get each day," she said.

Conversion into distribution centers 

Sam's Club president and CEO John Furner said the decisions are "part of running a healthy business.”

“We need great people to help lead us into the future and we hope that many of them will stay with the company at either a local store or club,” he said in a statement.

Up to 12 of the affected stores will be turned into distribution centers for online orders with the first in Memphis, Tennessee.

Walmart, the world’s largest private employer that started Sam's Club in 1983, was founded by Sam Walton in 1962. Walmart is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas.

There are more than 5,400 Walmart-owned locations across the country, including 597 Sam Club's.

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The company responded to customers asking for membership refunds online, telling them to send a private message to the company “and we can share all you need to know.”

Sam’s Club history in Seattle 

The Sam’s Club building in North Seattle was constructed in 1984. It opened November 15 of that year as a Price Savers, a similar wholesale membership warehouse that rivaled Costco, which opened in the opposite end of Seattle a year earlier. Price Savers was a subsidiary of the Seattle-based Pay ‘n Save Corporation.

Price Savers, which also had a Fife location, merged with PACE Warehouse Club in 1990 and was renamed in spring 1991. PACE announced a merger with Sam’s Club in 1993, part of a merger with 91 PACE stores across the country owned by the Kmart Corporation.

The Seattle PACE location switched to a Sam’s Club on Jan. 14, 1994. It is the only Walmart-owned business in Seattle.

Prior to being a warehouse club, the Sam’s Club site was home to a drive-in movie theatre. It began in 1946 as the Aurora Motor-In and was later called the Aurora Drive-In. It closed in 1982.

Parent company announces raises, bonuses

The closures come on the same day that Walmart announced a raise in their starting salary to $11.

The world's largest retailer said the moves, which also include expanded parental leave benefits, will affect more than a million hourly workers in the U.S. Employees previously started at $9 an hour, with a bump up to $10 after completing a training program. Its rival Target had raised its minimum hourly wage to $11 in October, and said it would raise wages to $15 by the end of 2020.

The one-time bonus between $200 and $1,000 will be given to Walmart employees who won't receive a pay raise. The bonus is based on length of service, with workers with at least 20 years qualifying for $1,000. In all, Walmart employs 2.3 million people around the world, 1.5 million of which are in the U.S.

In offering the bonuses, Walmart joins companies including American Airlines, AT&T and Bank of America that have announced $1,000 worker payouts following the passage of the Republican tax plan that slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The companies say the bonuses they've announced are a way to share some of their bounty with their workers, though in some cases it's a very small percentage of their gains.

Walmart has invested $2.7 billion in higher wages and training for workers to lower turnover and make the shopping experience more appealing. It has done well and strengthened its hand in online retail as many other retailers have struggled.

KIRO 7 reporter Deedee Sun contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press also is included.

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