Residents of the International District reacted strongly to news that Walmart plans to close its store on San Mateo just south of Central next month after almost 40 years of serving the area.
Nancy Si’mon said she doesn’t live in the International District, but does work there. She described the Walmart as her “stop shop” on the way home.
“For the people that don’t have transportation, it’s going to be hard,” Si’mon said.
She said that, because many people with economic needs shop with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, they are “automatically gonna start fleeing” to nearby convenience stores.
Marcelina Romero, who shops regularly at the store, said food at nearby grocery stores is expensive compared to Walmart, and the small convenience stores nearby don’t sell healthy, fresh food.
“There are no other grocery stores nearby, just junk food,” Romero said. “It’s gonna be bad.”
A spokeswoman for Walmart told the Journal Wednesday that the store will close March 10 after a review process revealed it was not performing as well as the company hoped.
“We are grateful to the customers who have given us the privilege of serving them at our Albuquerque location,” spokeswoman Lauren Willis said in a statement. “We look forward to serving them at our other stores in the surrounding communities and on walmart.com.”
Willis said in a follow-up email to the Journal that the company does not plan on closing any additional stores in Albuquerque. She said the roughly 287 employees who work at the Walmart at 301 San Mateo SE will be eligible for transfers to nearby locations.
Ruben Juarez, who said he is a frequent customer at the location, added that he couldn’t believe the store was going to be closed so soon. He said Walmart is a big source of food for many people in the area and there aren’t a lot of similar opportunities nearby. He said the community will “be taking a big hit.”
“It’s gonna be overwhelming,” Juarez said.
City Councilor Pat Davis, who represents the area, said the closure creates one more barrier between low-income families and reliable access to healthy food, citing people who depend on supplemental nutrition assistance.
“It really takes away the last option for fresh food and grocery stores for a big stretch of East Central and essentially creates the food desert that we have been concerned about for years,” Davis said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a “tract in which at least 100 households are located more than one-half mile from the nearest supermarket and have no vehicle access.”
Davis accused Walmart of driving smaller stores in the area away over the past decade by “bookending” the International District with its locations at San Mateo and Central, and Eubank and I-40, about 3.8 miles away.
He said he spoke to the mayor’s office and they plan to look for ways to incentivize regional or local grocery chains to go back to that neighborhood.
“In the short term, it’s really scary that the last options left are sort of junk food stores and really small retailers that are out of reach for most people,” Davis said.
Other mainstream grocery stores in the area are a mile or more away from the Walmart location.
The nearest Smith’s store is at Lomas and San Pedro, about 1.3 miles northeast. Another Smith’s is near the University of New Mexico on Yale, more than 2 miles away.
A Sprout’s Farmers Market is about a mile away at 5112 Lomas NE, and a Whole Foods Market is about three miles way at 2103 Carlisle NE.
The nearest Albertsons is about 4 miles away at 4950 Montgomery NE.
Some specialty groceries are closer.
El Mezquite, which specializes in Latin foods, is less than a mile away at 201 San Pedro SE.
About a mile away are the Asian grocery store Talin Market at 88 Louisiana SE and Damacio’s Grocery & Liquor at 913 San Pedro SE.
When asked if crime played a factor in the closure of the San Mateo Walmart, a company spokeswoman 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.
According to an APD report, 708 calls were made requesting service at or near the location in 2022.
Regular shopper Julian Valenzuela said, “If it were my store, I probably would close it, too.”
Sean Cardinalli, special projects manager for the New Mexico Black Leadership Council, said he thinks the Walmart closure is “absurd” because the International District community desperately needs readily available access to a grocery store.
“The International District is the most population-dense neighborhood, and the most diverse neighborhood in the city and, therefore, in the entire state,” Cardinalli said. “It’s a food desert out here.”
Cardinalli said the options are not convenient and will create a problem for “people who simply can’t afford the time or the gas to make their way to the nearest alternatives.” Willis said the company has about 15 Walmart stores within a 20-mile radius of the soon-to-be closed store. There are 53 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations across the state.
She said Walmart owns the property and “the facility will be re-evaluated for use at a later date.” She said several other Walmart stores are also closing across the country. “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,” Willis said.