Monday, March 27, 2023

San Mateo Walmart Set To Close Next Month

Closure of last major grocery store for International District exaggerates food desert concern


Walmart is closing many of its large urban stores nationwide this spring - including one of Albuquerque's most iconic.

Walmart confirmed earlier this week that its store at 300 San Mateo Blvd SE is among those slated to close at the end of March. The story was first confirmed by the Albuquerque Journal. The company says it will offer the 200+ employees jobs in other stores.

The country's largest retail and grocery chain has also recently announced closures of stores in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin just this week. The company is focussing more on developing online shopping and smaller neighborhood markets.

Walmart fans and critics alike shared comments across social media all day. Most centered around one of two themes: "it must be because of crime" or "this will make it harder for low-income residents nearby to access affordable, fresh food."

Facebook user "Mer Cedes" said, "I understand how bad it can get, but I see so many people rely on this Wal-Mart location. Not everyone has reliable transportation around this community."

Paul Brown posted, "Really sad when Walmart starts to leave a market (we all know it’s because of the crime in the area). I hope all those people can get jobs elsewhere."

But, responding to direct questions about whether crime was the major factor, Walmart was quick to push back.

“There is no single cause for why a store closes — we do a thorough review of how a store performs and weigh many factors before making the difficult decision to close a facility,” said.

When asked if crime played a factor in the closing of the store, she said APD has been a great partner for Walmart and that the company is thankful for the department’s efforts in combating crime at the store.

Walmart spokesperson in Albuquerque Journal, 02/08/2023

Although organized retail crime has increased during and since COVID according to local law enforcement, WalMart denied that crime was the reason for the closure and gave credit to APD for partnering to address those concerns.

Food desert expands

The International District in Southeast Albuquerque is currently bookended by two large WalMart supercenters containing grocery sections: one on Eubank Blvd and the San Mateo location. The expansion of large big box retailers into grocery pushed many locally owned stores out of business in the early 2000s and 2010s. Southeast residents remember the former Fair n' Square near Central Ave and Texas Ave in Southeast Albuquerque which closed in 2016 and the John Brooks supermarket directly across San Mateo from Walmart which closed in 2013. That left just Walmart as the last major grocer.

Other options remain, however, for those with a few more dollars in their pocket and access to transit and a little patience. Sprouts market at Lomas and San Mateo is less than a mile from the closing WalMart, though their organic focus includes a higher price point and lower selection. A Smith's store at San Pedro and Lomas is also nearby, but the next major grocery shopping area is 5.3 miles away at Tramway and Central -- a 30-plus minute bus ride with two transfers (But at least the ride is free thanks to the city's zero bus fare program).

City Councilor Pat Davis*, who represents the Southeast Albuquerque neighborhoods nearby, told news outlets that he had reached out to the mayor's office and County Commissioner Adriann Barboa to identify local incentives to lure another grocery option back to the International District. "When Walmart targeted the grocery market they ran our local stores out of business," says Davis. "But the gap they leave behind also creates an opportunity to lure a new chain -- or even better to incentivize someone local -- to be the anchor provider for fresh, quality food every working family needs."

"The city and county have a lot of tools in the toolbox to attract big industry and high wage jobs, but those same economic development tools can work to incentivize retail, too. Someone sees this as an opportunity and I'm putting the word out that we want to be their partner," Davis added.

*Pat Davis is also a co-owner of The Paper.


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