Lack of storage space causes Smallmart to close

Photo by John Nakano

On July 3, the Walmart location in Tech Square will close.

The store, sometimes referred to as ‘Smallmart,’ opened at 86 5th Street NW on August 14, 2013 as the smallest branch in the country at the time. However, according to employees, this caused some problems in the operation of the store.

“We had no backroom storage, and there was no cooler space in the back, so we received our inventory every day from the Supercenter, and whatever we got that day was all we had to put out,” said Staff Pharmacist Carla Gillespie-Berry. “It wasn’t that we weren’t successful, and we loved being here — it was just we needed more space.”

The store closing comes shortly before the opening of University House and Square on Fifth, apartment high-rises marketed towards Tech students.

According to Gillespie-Berry, the increased number of students would exceed the capacity of the Tech Square Walmart to replenish inventory sufficiently. This was one of the reasons that the decision was made to close the store.

Tech students expressed general concern over the closing of the store.

“I think Smallmart closing will make it a lot more difficult for Tech students to get basic necessities conveniently,” said Emma Smith, a second-year INTA. “It’s so expensive to park on campus that most Tech kids don’t have cars. That means we can’t drive to Walmart and even Publix is a
far walk.”

According to Gillespie-Berry, the location in Tech Square was a prototypical new business model for Walmart, and the two years of the store’s operation had demonstrated that the logistics made the store inefficient.

“Our inventory came out of the Supercenter everyday,” Gillespie-Berry said. “We had to have vendors come every day, and the Walmart truck had to come every day. The way we received our merchandise was totally different from the way [Walmart] stores normally receive merchandise. [Walmart] told us it just wasn’t a good business model from an inventory standpoint.”

Gillespie-Berry also emphasized that all of the current employees at the Tech Square Walmart location will be reassigned to other Walmart stores, and that no one will be laid off.

In 2013, Jason Long of Shift Marketing Group noted that the Tech Square Walmart’s performance would likely be closely monitored by executives of the company in order to determine whether the smaller store business model would be viable. He added that, on the surface, campus Walmart locations make sense.

However, Walmart continues to open up stores on campuses throughout the country, the most recent example being its location at Virgina Commonwealth University (VCU), which began operation on April 29. The VCU store is 5,000 square feet in total, which is double the size of the location in Tech Square, according to the National Real Estate Investor.

The Walmart location in Tech Sqaure was only the second time that a store had been opened on campus, following the branch at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, which began operation in January 2013.

Initially, Tech Square was chosen as a location for Walmart due to the area’s success with other businesses and its close proximity to the high density of college students. One of the major selling points of the store was that the prices of items in the inventory would be equivalent to their price at a normal Walmart location.

The Walmart at Howell Mill Road will take over all prescriptions served by the Tech Square branch, unless the client transfers them prior to July 3.