- Associated Press - Monday, January 25, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - By spring, the state will have six empty 12,000-square-foot buildings, scattered across towns with less than 4,000 people.

The former Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets, once called Wal-Mart Expresses by the company, will be vacant soon, said company spokeswoman Anne Hatfield. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. owns the buildings in Okemah, Luther, Prague, Stroud, Wewoka and Watonga. The company will either sell or lease them to another tenant.

CBRE Oklahoma broker Ryan Storer said it could be challenging filling the large spaces in small towns. In the Oklahoma City metro area, Life.Church has been known to take the vacant spaces. WinCo Foods is filling a former Target space in Midwest City.

“There are certainly retailers that pattern their strategy to fill a market that includes small towns like that,” he said. “Other retailers logistically can’t do that.”

The Journal Record (https://bit.ly/1RWVv6o ) reports that Dollar General Corp. has a 16,000-square-foot model called Dollar General Market, which offers customers everything found at a Dollar General, plus fresh produce, meat and more perishable items than a traditional store. Tishomingo has a Dollar General Market.

Crystal Ghassemi, Dollar General Corp. spokeswoman, said the company doesn’t have any immediate plans to lease or buy the Wal-Mart stores. She said the Dollar General Market concept takes up only about 1 percent of the company’s store inventory. The company will build 900 new stores nationwide this year, yet she did not know how many are traditional stores and how many are markets.

A traditional Dollar General measures 9,700 square feet, so a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market building would be too large. Family Dollar spokeswoman Bryn R. Winburn said the company would not comment on an inquiry about filling the buildings.

Storer said potential future occupants must feel that the site is in a part of town that works for their customers.

“Depending on the age of the space, it might be an easier sell than you might think,” Storer said.

The stores will officially close on Jan. 28. Some employees will be allowed to stay and help clean out the merchandise. Every employee will be paid until Feb. 10, which is when the stores are expected to be empty.

Employees will be paid another 60 days after Feb. 10 if they haven’t relocated to another store. After that, full-time and part-time employees who worked for at least one year will be offered a severance package.

Wal-Mart is closing 269 stores worldwide, more than half of them in the U.S. Hatfield said this massive closing is likely the first in the company’s history.

“Typically we haven’t closed this many stores,” she said. “This is something that happens in retail. Our competitors do it. We just don’t do it.”

She said the company is focusing on its e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores that perform well, which are Wal-Mart Supercenters and the 40,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets.

“It’s about thinking long term,” she said. “These are never easy decisions. We have to stay focused on what has proven successful.”

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Information from: The Journal Record, https://www.journalrecord.com

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