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updated: 1/12/2018 6:16 AM

Six suburban Sam's Club stores part of nationwide closing

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Shoppers, employees and city officials were stunned Thursday to learn six suburban Sam's Clubs warehouse stores will close Jan. 26, as the chain is closing 63 stores nationwide.

As rain fell outside the store in Wheeling, a steady trickle of people parked in the near-empty lot, walked to the entrance and got the same bad news from a pair of private security workers: The store was closed.

"I am very disappointed," said Palatine resident Danita Ward, who shops there twice a week. "There's no other one close. It's a shame people are going to lose their jobs."

The shuttered stores will reopen Friday for two weeks.

Shoppers in Naperville said they were surprised by the store's closure. They said they thought it was a busy location.

Woodridge resident Phyllis Harry said she started shopping at the Naperville location after the Sam's Club in her town closed last July. Even though she renewed her annual membership last month, Harry said she doesn't want to shop farther away from her home.

"I'm very disappointed because we've been members for 15, 20 years," she said. "Well, I guess I'll just have to go to Costco."

The members-only chain first made the announcement Thursday on Twitter after shoppers, employees and municipal officials had confirmed the news. It later said in a news release that up to 12 stores might be converted into distribution sites, but it mentioned only Memphis, Tennessee, as one of those locations.

"We are shocked because it had always appeared to us that that store did very well," Batavia city administrator Laura Newman said of that city's store.

Besides Wheeling and Naperville, stores are also closing in Streamwood, Romeoville and Matteson, as well as Moline on the western edge of the state, according to the layoff notices the company sent to the state and to authorities in those towns. According to the letters, 1,167 employees are affected.

After the stores close, most employees will be out of work by March 16 and managers out of work in April.

"We know this is difficult news for our associates and we are working to place as many of them as possible at nearby locations. Our focus today has been on those associates and their communities, and communicating with them," John Furner, president and CEO of Sam's Club, said in the chain's news release.

Sam's Club owns the land for its Batavia store, built in 1999.

"I would be hopeful that Walmart (Sam's parent company) will not dillydally on getting the site redeveloped," Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said. He noted Sam's Club had just remodeled several years ago and that the Walmart next to it expanded to become a Super Walmart.

The stores to be closed were removed from the store locator on the Sam's Club website. Stores in Crystal Lake, Elgin, Montgomery, Addison, Gurnee and Vernon Hills will remain in business, according to the website and to calls placed to them.

Lombard officials were told Thursday by Sam's Club West LLC that plans to construct a store in that town have been abandoned.

The village had been working with Sam's Club and the owner of a site on Butterfield Road since 2014. The village approved an economic incentive agreement in 2016 and approved demolition of an office building and a restaurant on the site in 2016. Engineering permits were issued in 2017.

In Batavia, city officials have halted a plan to hire an additional police officer, who would have joined a narcotics task force, and a second building inspector until they figure out how the drop in sales taxes the store generates will affect the city budget. Batavia's fiscal year began Jan. 1.

Wheeling Village Manager Jon Sfondilis was similarly considering the loss of the store.

"Sam's Club is a significant sales tax generator for the village and this closure will have a majorly negative impact on Wheeling's revenue stream. This cannot be overstated," Sfondilis said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Robert Sanchez, Doug Graham, Bob Smith, Chacour Koop and Jake Griffin contributed to this story.