EDNA – For 36 years, Walmart played a large role in Edna’s economy, providing steady jobs and a significant amount of the city’s sales tax revenue.
But five months after the store closed, the rural community appears to be coping without the major retailer. City officials, who were once fearful of lost tax revenue, are more confident now about making up for the store closure.
Sales tax revenue is up, local businesses have expanded their inventories to help fill the gap Walmart left behind, customer traffic is higher and new businesses are on the way.
Although the sales tax rate hasn’t changed, the total city sales tax revenue this year so far is $1,227,843.68, more than $158,000 above the 2017 total. From when Walmart closed July 20 until December, sales tax revenue is about 7 percent higher than it was during the same time period in 2017, said Joe Hermes, who has been Edna’s mayor for 32 years.
“We didn’t expect we would have higher sales tax after Walmart closed,” he said. “I’m astounded and thrilled. The only answer I can think of is there are more people shopping at home. A lot of the stores here are now carrying more inventory.”
Walmart was one of the highest sales tax generators in Edna and opened at 1002 N. Wells St. in 1982. When Walmart came to Edna, the company owned the 37,000-square-foot building but has since sold it. The building is owned by Edna Associates, according to the Jackson County Appraisal District’s website, and is worth about $1.2 million.
City officials have been working with building owner Charlie Carames, of New York City, to fill the space, said City Manager Don Doering. He said the owner is trying to market the building.
Carames declined to comment but said he would provide more information in about a month. Doering said he thinks Carames is trying to lease the building. Loopnet lists the building for lease to be available in February, and Crexi lists the building for sale.
Some companies are showing an interest in the city after Walmart closed, Doering said. Family Dollar is considering coming to Edna and is buying a site.
Walmart’s pharmacy had filled as many as 600 prescriptions a day, and when the store closed, Rogers Pharmacy was the only one left.
A sign at 604 N. Wells St. states a new business called Edna Pharmacy is coming soon. The Edna H-E-B also opened a pharmacy at its location about two months ago.
“There are businesses looking at Edna, and some are coming here. I don’t know how many will come,” said Hermes, who declined to elaborate.
Before Walmart came to Edna, there were five grocery stores: Stanley Brothers, Minimax, Gayle Food Store, Sembera’s and Elder’s; three drug stores: Farris Rexall, Williams-Lee Drug and La Bauve Drug; two five-and-dime stores: Ben Franklin and Perry Brothers; clothing stores; shoe stores; and four hardware and automotive stores, Hermes said.
Most of the grocery stores closed after H-E-B came to Edna, Hermes said, and most of the other existing businesses that sold items Walmart was selling for less closed after the large retailer arrived.
Unlike at other businesses, traffic at Westhoff Mercantile Co. stayed strong when Walmart opened, said owner Gus Westhoff, 71, whose family started the business in 1889. His business is a hardware store, lumberyard and gift shop.
After Walmart closed, Westhoff began taking suggestions from customers about inventory he should add to the store so buyers wouldn’t have to drive to Victoria or El Campo, which both have Walmart superstores. So far, Westhoff has added swimming pool supplies, more plumbing parts and LED lightbulbs and expanded its paint line. The store continues to add to its inventory.
“We’re happy to take special orders for customers, too,” he said. Traffic has also increased slightly at Westhoff Mercantile Co. since Walmart closed.
Bill Hessong, 46, owns Edna Auto Supply and estimates he has expanded his inventory about 15 percent, including small appliances, pool chemicals, air conditioner filters, RV camper supplies, bicycle tubes, mailboxes, signs and cellphone chargers. He’s also expanded the store’s rain gear and hunting and fishing sections.
“When someone wanted something they couldn’t find, we wrote it down,” he said. “We’re still adding today.”
Hessong said traffic has increased, and they’re seeing a lot of new customers.
“It’s tapered off, but we were seeing at least two or three new customers per day that hadn’t ever been to the store and have been here in town the whole time,” he said.
Rebecca Rossell, 35, moved to Edna with her husband and three children from Georgia about a year and a half ago. She said she liked the convenience of having a Walmart in the small city and was in disbelief when she learned the store was going to close.
Although Walmart left a gap in available merchandise, Rossell said she has shopped at local businesses that have expanded their inventories. She has bought pool chemicals from Edna Auto Supply and some over-the-counter medications at Rogers Pharmacy.
“More people are shopping at the local businesses now,” she said. “I’ve noticed if someone needs something, (businesses) will work with you to try and get it.”