If Walmart’s government affairs person in Oregon knew anything about the giant retailer’s plans to close its only two stores within Portland city limits, she didn’t tell city officials until just before the news became public.
Emails obtained through a public records request show that Deborah Herron, Walmart’s director of public affairs and government relations, was in close contact about other matters with Andrew Fitzpatrick, director of economic development for the city, in the days leading up to the announcement.
The pair met for coffee Feb. 9, less than two weeks before the news broke. They exchanged emails after the meeting. On Feb. 20, Fitzpatrick emailed Herron offering to help out with easing requirements for stores to host bottle-return stations.
“Great seeing you a week and a half ago or so,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “Meeting with Jules Bailey from [the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative] later this week so please let me know if you have any messaging to reinforce. Within the confines of the state law, I’d love to find some additional flexibility for businesses having to participate in bottle redemption.”
Fitzpatrick emailed again Feb. 21: “I also had a quick question for you about retail theft policies and apprehensions when you have a moment and could call me. Thanks!!”
Before joining the city in February 2022, Fitzpatrick worked at Walmart as director of global public policy for seven years. Reached by phone, he confirmed that the first he heard of Walmart’s plan to close the stores came just hours before the announcement.
“We had a heads-up, but it was earlier that day,” Fitzpatrick says. “Debbie and I spoke, and she wanted to make sure the mayor had the information.”
Herron didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
The final email provided by the city was one from Herron on Feb. 22, telling Fitzpatrick that the stores were closing.
“I am connecting with you to share tough news,” Herron wrote. “After a careful and thoughtful review process, we have made the difficult decision to close our Walmart locations at Hayden Meadows and Eastport Plaza in Portland. While there are more than a dozen stores serving the region, we understand this is a hard news to hear.”
The stores would close on Friday, March 24, Herron said.