Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats asked residents not to boycott the Dunn-Erwin Walmart despite the store’s reluctance to sell over $6,000 in gift cards for use with his office’s annual Shop With The Sheriff Campaign.
“By no means am I asking people to boycott Walmart,” Coats said. “I’ll probably still shop at Walmart.”
The controversy began when Lt. Dominic Alvarado, who runs the program for Coats, went to the Dunn-Erwin store to buy the gift cards, according to Coats. He said when Alvarado attempted to buy the cards, he was told the store had a new policy placing a limit of $1,000 on the purchase of gift cards.
“He asked to speak with the manager and they sent a CSM (customer service manager) out and they said this is our policy and Alvarado asked to speak with a manager,” Coats said. “This person said this is the reason I’m here, the manager’s not going to come out and speak with you.”
Coats said Alvarado suggested a three-way call with the store’s corporate offices in an attempt to clarify the situation, a request that was again refused. At this point, the CSM suggested the sheriff’s office go online and order the gift cards, which had no guarantee when they would arrive.
Coats said he fully understands the policy of the store about limiting the amount of gift card sales because of scammers. He also felt it wouldn’t be unreasonable to contact the corporate offices in order to work out a solution beyond hoping the gift cards would arrive by the day of the event, which is Friday evening.
“We tried to explain to them this is $6,000 or $7,000 to be put on a card we’re going to give you, that’s going to be spent all in one night, it’s not like it’s going to be taken home and there’s going to be a scam somewhere down the road,” Coats said.
Because of the disagreement over the cards, Coats and his staff began looking around and found the Target store in Holly Springs was more than willing to step up and welcome the kids and their police escorts. The store manager pledged to come in to the store and meet and greet the kids, open dedicated cash registers for the event and provide volunteers to assist and provide parking for the participants.
“We went to Wake County and reached out to the manager of Target,” Coats said. “It’s amazing what Target has agreed to do.”
Coats said as of Thursday morning he had not heard from either local or corporate Walmart officials. In a previous conversation with The Daily Record, a spokesman for Walmart corporate office said the store manager at the Dunn-Erwin location was not aware of the incident, something Coats said he believes is incorrect.
“We’ve been doing this for seven years,” Coats said. “How can you deny knowing anything about it. This is not about Wayne Coats, this is about kids whose parents might be having a hard time at Christmas. This is a way of giving these kids a Christmas they might not have had.”
The annual program is funded through donations and through a golf tournament the sheriff’s office sponsors each year. All of the money raised through those efforts goes to the program.
“I just wanted those who donated to know why the money wasn’t being brought back to Harnett County this year,” Coats said.