ORIENTAL, N.C. (WNCT) — The Oriental Town N’ Country was open for more than 40 years. Now, only 20 months after the grand opening, The Walmart Express just down the street that put the family owned and operated grocery store out of business is closing.
“I wish they had stayed away,” said Oriental Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Venturi. “I don’t think their place is Small Town America.”
When the only grocery store and pharmacy in town closes at 7 p.m. Thursday, residents will have to drive miles for simple necessities and prescriptions.
“They’re perfectly happy to just go away and leave us to deal with it,” said Venturi.
So, that’s what the tight-knit coastal community is doing. Some people have volunteered to drive those without transportation to neighboring towns. Commissioner Allen Price set up a group to facilitate the trips.
“We have more volunteers than we can ask for,” said Oriental Town Commissioner Allen Price. “The need is to get people to Bayboro to get the basic needs for their family.”
Other businesses, like Inland Waterway Provision Company, are supplying essentials, like milk and eggs, so that residents have access to food in town.
“Everyone is convinced that a grocery store will come in,” said Inland Waterway Provision Company Manager Pat Stockwell. “The bigger question is when will that be?”
And who will that be?
“Hopefully, we will get a mom and pop or a family oriented grocery store back in here,” said Venturi. “One that’s very committed to the community’s needs and wants. And now, I believe it would be supported on every single level.”
Community members stress that these are only short-term fixes for a very big problem that requires a more long-term solution. Walmart Corporation will pay the Town of Oriental $6,432.18 according to Town Manager Diane Miller. She says the payment is for property taxes the company verbally agreed to pay when the town granted them access to their water system. Miller says the money will go into the general fund once it is received.
Thursday night, Walmart is closing more than 250 of its stores across the country, including three in eastern North Carolina.
It’s a story 9 On Your Side has followed since Walmart made the announcement two weeks ago.
The locations shutting down are the Walmart Expresses in Ayden, Snow Hill and Oriental.
Earlier this month, 9 On Your Side talked with folks in Oriental who say the closure leaves many of them without access to a grocery store.
“People will now have to travel at least 15 miles to get their groceries,” explained Linda Caroon, community member. “We still have the dollar general where we can get a loaf of bread and milk, but some of the meats we can’t get.”
All stores will close their doors at seven o’clock.