BRANDON, Fla. - Employees of a Walmart in Brandon that abruptly closed Monday were among more than 2,000 employees nationwide who learned almost simultaneously they were being laid off.
In a nearly identical manner at every store, Walmart corporate officials visited the five locations, called an impromptu meeting in the back of the store and told employees that the stores would be closing that evening.
Besides Brandon, the affected locations were in Pico Rivera, Calif., Livingston, Texas, Midland, Texas, Tulsa, Okla.
The stores were all built between 1994 and 2004 and average around 200,000 square feet of heated and cooled space.
The stores are all corporate owned and appraised at between $9 million and $28 million each.
Ad valorem taxes at the Brandon location added up to more than $243,000 last year.
Sales taxes collected at that store are believed to be many times that amount.
Walmart issued a statement regarding the plumbing issues at the Brandon store.
“The issues mostly relate to clogs and water leaks in the plumbing - we’ve had persistent issues over the last several years,“ said a Walmart spokesperson said.
“These incidents impact the availability of water and create drainage issues for critical areas of the store which impacts our ability to serve customers,” she said.
“Normally, we do our best to avoid disrupting a store’s operations. However, given this particular store had one of the highest incidences of plumbing issues in the entire fleet and in order to reduce the costs associated with these incidents, we felt it was in the store’s best interest to invest in making the necessary improvements to resolve these issues,” the spokesperson said.
The I-Team has learned that none of the five affected stores have sought any plumbing permits for future repairs.
“We’re in a holding pattern. We’re anxious to learn exactly what they’re planning,” said Pico Rivera City Manager James Enriquez, when we contacted him about the store’s closing Tuesday.
Enriquez says when Walmart notified the city Monday that it was closing the store, he offered his full support in trying to get it back open.
“My building official walked out there and didn’t see any work being done,” he said.
He said his office was unaware of any prior plumbing issues, but reached out to Walmart, offering to help with granting permits for work.
“We needed to do what we could, since about 500 people are without jobs,” Enriquez said Walmart has not contacted his office about obtaining any permits.
The local newspaper documented with video and photos some of the chaos outside that store after workers received the news.
It was one of the busiest days of the year for the Liberty Tax Service in Midland, Texas, when she says a Walmart district manager told her to vacate the kiosk her company rents at that location.
“There were suits everywhere,” said the manager of the store, who asked not to be named.
She said she was told that the store would soon begin tearing up the floor and removing tiles.
The tax service manager said she was told to have her files and computers out of the store by 5 p.m., and was unsure if customers would know how to reach her at another office to file their taxes on time.
The manager said she has worked inside the store since 2012, used the restroom daily and has never seen a plumber working in the store or witnessed a plumbing problem.
No plumbers or contractors could be seen at the Brandon Wal-Mart today.