JOPLIN, Mo. —
For 20 years, Julie Smith has worked as a part-time employee at the Wal-Mart store at 15th Street and Range Line Road.
As heavy equipment moves just yards away where a new Wal-Mart is under construction, Smith remembers what had been.
“I worked at the first Wal-Mart that was here, and then at the one that was hit by the tornado,” she said. “It was very sad watching the store go down. It was like a whole part of your life was ending.
“But we are banding together now, and we will come back stronger than before.’’
Smith, who survived the tornado in the store, was among 400 or so Wal-Mart employees who gathered on Monday for a store meeting under a tent near the construction site for the new store.
Andy Martin, store manager, announced during the meeting that the Wal-Mart company will be a partner in the restoration of Cunningham Park, the city’s first park. It is committing $250,000 to that project.
In addition, Wal-Mart will team up with Missouri Southern State University, the Joplin R-8 School District and House of Hope to put on a “Back to School’’ project with free entertainment for local children. Families will receive free school supplies and Wal-Mart bags. Free eye screenings and school physicals will be offered.
That event will be held from 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, in Young Gymnasium at MSSU.
Wal-Mart also plans to sponsor the Joplin High School homecoming football game this fall. A popular performer has been lined up for that event.
Attending Monday’s store meeting were several state legislators and a delegation from the city of Joplin that included City Manager Mark Rohr and Mayor Mike Woolston.
Woolston said, “The $250,000 donation to help rebuild Cunningham Park was certainly welcome news. Wal-Mart has been extremely generous in their donations to our area, and this is just another example of that giving spirit.’’
Having first learned of the donation on Monday, Woolston said the city has not had an opportunity to discuss how it will be spent.
“A plan for the park will be developed and the money will be utilized in a manner that offers the most amenities to the greatest number of our citizens and visitors,’’ he said.
Rohr said the donation will go into a pool of funds for the reconstruction of Cunningham.
“We greatly appreciate the contributions by our friends at Wal-Mart, and it will be another boost in our efforts to rebuild Joplin better and stronger than we were before the storm,’’ Rohr said.
Also attending was Mike Moore, senior vice president of Wal-Mart, who grew up in Joplin and got his start at the 15th Street store — also known as store No. 59. There are now more than 4,000 stores worldwide.
“This is about family, and today everybody came back home,’’ said Mickey Boles, market director for Wal-Mart health care and wellness in Southwest Missouri.
Employees were able to inspect the blueprints for the new store, have lunch served by Backyard Burgers and write their names on a Wal-Mart trailer at the site.
NO JOBS LOST
About the rapid progress on the new store, Martin, manager of the store, said, “It’s great from the structural side, but it’s the personal side that’s even more important. We have managed to keep them all. No one has lost their job.’’
Employees of No. 59 have continued to work at the store on West Seventh Street in Joplin, and at the stores in Webb City and Neosho.
Martin said the new store will be roughly the same size as the previous. It is being built farther to the east because the tornado twisted the old store’s footings. By moving the store back, more space will be available for parking on the west side of the store.
The new store will have an expanded garden center and two drive-through windows for the pharmacy.
Martin said, “The new store will not be what you would call a ‘green’ store, but it will be greener when compared to the previous store. It will be the most modern design of our new stores.’’
Plans call for the store to re-open in mid-November.
Smith, who spent most of her time behind the jewelry counter, said, “I don’t know how many people have told me that this store was ‘their Wal-Mart.’ It’s touching to hear it.
“For all us of here today, it’s our Wal-Mart.’’
An interim pharmacy and vision center have opened on the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store at 15th Street and Range Line Road. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Dr. David Grant, O.D., is serving eye patients there. His number is 781-1010.
Check-cashing services also are available.