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Internet cheers, shoppers look on sadly as last Walmart in St. Paul closes

The Midway Walmart on University Avenue was infamous to some, and a lifeline for others.

The Midway Walmart on University Avenue was infamous to some, and a lifeline for others. Hannah Jones

These are the final days of St. Paul’s only Walmart. The University Avenue store, near Snelling Avenue, the Green Line, and the new Allianz Field, is shutting its doors for good on September 20. A company spokesperson told news outlets that “several factors” were involved in the decision, including the store’s “overall performance.”

Hundreds of comments on WCCO’s Facebook post present a wide range of reactions, but few of them were sentimental. In fact, most of them were on the derisive side, calling the store “disgusting,” “crime-ridden,” and vaguely “awful.” One commenter confessed they “actually saw their dumpster on fire one time.”

“This was the worst Walmart in the state!!” someone said.

“Yay!!!” another added.

Like the Dickensian townsfolk making merry over Scrooge’s coffin, there is some truth to all this. The Midway Walmart had its share of problems, and crime was definitely one of them.

Walmarts in general rely on police more than any other retail business in the metro area, but this particular store took that to another level. It made more than 2,100 calls for service over the course of 2016. For some comparison, the Bloomington and Brooklyn Center locations each made a little over 1,000, and the one in Brooklyn Park only made 480. It got to the point where the Midway Walmart’s police presence alone was making customers a little uncomfortable.

Then there are the societal ills associated with the company—exploiting workers, crushing small businesses, dealing with disreputable suppliers, the list goes on. The store was already the subject of heated debate when it opened back in 2004.

But not everybody is happy to see it go. On Friday morn, it was teeming with activity. There was a line at every checkout counter. Families and small groups of teens perused 97-cent notebooks for their back-to-school shopping. A few were surprised to hear of the store’s imminent demise. Most were simply too busy to talk about it. But a fair few were mourning.

“It’s disappointing,” Rick Grier says. Not because Walmart holds any particular charm for him, but because it’s literally the cheapest place he can get everything he needs. Now he’ll have to go to Target and spend more.

For a lot of people, Walmart is a lifeline. By the numbers, the majority of people shop there expressly due to low prices. In 2014, the company noted in an annual report that changes to food assistance and unemployment programs play a significant role in its profits—mostly because so many of its customers are poor. 

Then there are the workers. According to the Star Tribune, about 333 will lose their jobs when the store closes and will have to transfer. It's not an insignificant change, since the nearest ones are in West St. Paul and Roseville.

“A lot of ladies have been working there since I was a kid,” Lenard Woods says after finishing his shopping. “It’s going to be weird when it’s gone.”

Walmart's disappearance is yet another sign of a rapidly changing neighborhood. The short walk between the parking lot and the manicured lawns of Allianz Field is like stepping into another world, where everything is bigger, shinier, and more expensive. Just down the street, new, higher-cost apartments are going in near Whole Foods, and the Starbucks Coffee shop continues to leave a visible footprint on traffic patterns.

When Walmart’s gone, there’s no telling what it will take with it.