CLINTON — Walmart officials announced plans Wednesday to close its smallest Illinois retail store in Clinton on July 20, a move that is a "devastating blow" to the DeWitt County community, said a city official.

“It’s a huge loss of sales tax. It’s about 70 jobs, I understand, and you can’t just replace that,” said city Finance Commissioner Tom Edmunds.

The 35,00-square-foot store opened in spring 1983 as the anchor of a west-side shopping center across from the Clinton High School.

“The decision to close our Clinton store is not an easy one, but financial performance was one of the factors,” said Walmart Director of Communications Anne Hatfield. “We opened this store in 1983 and we are as proud today as we’ve ever been with how the store leadership and associates have served and contributed to the local community over the years.

"We are grateful to the customers who have given us the privilege of serving them in Clinton.”

Plans for the building are unknown at this time. 

“They said the store, as it sits, is too small, compared to their current models,” Edmunds said. “They don’t sell enough groceries.”

Pharmacy representatives will begin working with clients to transition them to other pharmacies of their choice.

Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau Executive Director Marian Brisard said she, like all city officials, was shocked by the news.

“This will affect a lot of households through the loss of jobs and revenue for the city,” she said.

Brisard also sits on the board of the DeWitt County Development Council, and DCDC officials are trying to find more answers.

“We have reached out to Walmart and the city of Clinton to see if there is anything we can still do to change it,” she said.

In a statement released by the city Wednesday afternoon, officials called the news of the closure “heavy and unexpected.”

“This will be a sorely missed long-term business relationship that hits our community very hard. Our prayers and hearts are with the employees that will have to make tough decisions in the days ahead. We will proceed to move forward to find another long-term economic development prospect to fit our community as we are losing a true asset,” read the statement.

Hatfield said employees will be the company’s “top priority” in the next few months. Employees will be paid through Aug. 31, she said.

Transfer opportunities to other stores may be possible, and severance packages may be available to eligible employees who do not transfer, she added.

“We hope they will continue working with Walmart and we will work with them to find out what their interests are will help them in whatever way we can," she said.

Clinton residents said they also were surprised by the news.

“I’m not an expert, but think it’s likely to hurt low-income families and our elderly the most, as well as the folks who don’t leave Clinton daily and depend on lower cost prescriptions and quick access to basic necessities,” said Kristin Jackson.

Lee Peacock agreed the closing will have a lot of implications for the local economy, but he hopes the displaced workers will start their own businesses.

"And long term, we could have a great bunch of small businesses in a small town with local employees, local owners and local customers," he said. "To some degree, the local Clinton businesses have done what most other towns cannot do: That’s compete and beat Walmart.”

Amber Spurling said she worries about her friends who work at Walmart losing their jobs and about the closure's ripple effect.

"I also think that in the long run, it could possibly affect some of the restaurants and fast-food businesses in town because if people are going out of town to shop now, they most likely will eat out of town," Spurling said. "I’m hoping I'm wrong on this.”

Contact Kevin Barlow at (309) 820-3238. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_barlow