All Sam’s Club locations in Alaska are closing, as part of an unannounced nationwide rollback of the Walmart-owned wholesale club’s stores.

KTVA viewer Joe Gerace, owner of the Chevron gas station outside the Dimond Fred Meyer, said he visited an Anchorage Sam’s Club location for before-hours business shopping Thursday and found security officers turning customers away at the door.

Gerace said Sam’s was uniquely helpful to local businesses, stocking several items he couldn’t find anywhere else and allowing business owners early access directly to inventory through the back of the store. He said shopping at Sam’s took about 15 minutes, versus more than an hour at its local competitors.

“They were a big piece for a small-business owner,” Gerace said. “They were a significant partner.”

Sam's Club locations in Anchorage were no longer holding early business hours Friday morning.

The Sam's Club location at the Tikahtnu Commons shopping area in Anchorage is among the Alaska locations which were abruptly closed on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. (Heather Hintze/KTVA)

Sam's Club customer Holly Wichorek said she had visited a local store to help celebrate her daughter's first birthday -- making a purchase that was stymied by the closure.

“They were supposed to make [her] birthday cake and called to tell me they won’t be able to make it,” Wichorek said.

Jessica Buckner, an audit team lead at the Sam’s Club location in the Tikahtnu Commons, said all Alaska stores are closing as part of a larger downsizing across the U.S.

Walmart said in a statement Thursday afternoon that 63 Sam's Clubs were being closed across the U.S., with up to a dozen of those locations being converted into "eCommerce fulfillment centers" used to speed the delivery of online orders. The statement didn't say which locations would become fulfillment centers.

“Transforming our business means managing our real estate portfolio and Walmart needs a strong fleet of Sam’s Clubs that are fit for the future,” said Sam’s Club president and CEO John Furner. “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.”

According to CBS News and Business Insider, stores in Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Puerto Rico are also closing.

The stores’ official closure date is Jan. 26, Buckner said, with their pharmacies serving customers until then. A sign on the door of the Tikahtnu Sam's Club said the store would temporarily reopen after Thursday's closure at 10 a.m. Friday.

The chain, which competes with Costco, has a second Anchorage location near the Dimond Center mall as well as one in Fairbanks -- but a search for Alaska stores on its website returned no results Thursday morning.

According to Sam's, the chain's more than 650 locations employ more than 100,000 people, including an average of 175 employees per store.

The news came amid word of Walmart workers' minimum wage rising to $11 an hour in February, as the discount stores hand out one-time bonuses of up to $1,000 it credited to the passage of the Republican-backed tax reform bill. According to Sam's Club, employees at closing locations will receive that bonus and 60 days of pay, as well as severance payments if they're eligible.

Consumer website says Sam's Club members should be able to obtain refunds for their memberships under the company's satisfaction guarantee.

Heather Hintze, Melissa Frey and John Grobe contributed information to this story.

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