MOORHEAD, Minn. - Wayne Sander said things seemed busy at the Sam's Club in Moorhead since he got a job in the photo department just after Thanksgiving.
That's why it came as a "complete shock" Thursday morning, Jan. 11, when he arrived for a 9 a.m. shift only to be told he and all other employees here will soon lose their jobs when the store closes.
Sander and two city officials who were notified of the decision Thursday confirmed that the store will close Jan. 26. Requests for comment weren't immediately returned by Sam's Club, a membership-based discount warehouse retailer operated by Walmart.
Moorhead isn't alone. Business Insider reported Thursday morning that Walmart told the news outlet that it would close 63 Sam's Club locations in America, with some shuttered Thursday and others scheduled to shut down at a later date.
"After a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we've decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy," Sam's Club posted to Twitter on Thursday, adding that closing stores "is never easy."
Cindy Graffeo, executive director of Moorhead's Economic Development Authority, said the city manager's office received a fax at noon Thursday from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development confirming the Sam's Club will close Jan. 26.
The fax reported the store employs 168 people. Employees will be "terminated" effective March 16, according to that memo, meaning they'll be compensated until that date, while management-level workers will be terminated effective April 13.
Graffeo said the fax didn't include a reason for the upcoming closure, though she offered an "unconfirmed" possible factor in the decision.
"I do understand that nationally the retail industry, the grocery industry, is currently in flux," she said. "I have a feeling it has more to do with national trends than anything here at the local level."
Sander said he was surprised by the news. He learned the store would be closed to customers for the day on Thursday, not because of the winter storm outside but to discuss the decision with employees.
"A lot of people were really shook up," he said.
He said the store will reopen Friday, Jan. 12, and start a "huge sale" to sell off inventory.
Sander also got some information from a letter he found at his door when he got back home Thursday morning. He said the letter referred to Sam's Club making a "difficult decision" to close the store.
"It says, 'This decision is based on an analysis of our business and is not a reflection on the associates or the management team at your Sam's Club,' " he said.
Affected employees also were told they could apply for open positions at other Walmart or Sam's Club stores, Sander said, and could be eligible for a severance package based on their years of service.
Mayor Del Rae Williams said the store seemed busy when she'd go there. Still, she said city staff "did kind of wonder" when Sam's Club didn't renew its tobacco license this month.
The 136,000-square-foot Moorhead store opened in April 2014, and the building is owned by Sam's Real Estate Business Trust, according to Graffeo.
Williams said she's hopeful it won't sit empty for long. Ideally, she said something could happen like the recent conversion of a former Kmart along U.S. Highway 10 in Moorhead that closed in December 2016.
She said that 89,000-square-foot Kmart was only vacant for a couple months when Minnesota-based retailer Runnings announced its plans to remodel and open there, which it did Sept. 27.
"I'm hoping that it will be the same kind of situation for Sam's," she said.
Graffeo said the closure is hard for affected employees.
"I hope that the silver lining in this very, very unfortunate situation is that our local economy is strong and we have a very low unemployment rate," she said. "We have a lot of open positions in the market, so we're hopeful that these employees will land on their feet."