As Walmart eliminates greeters, one beloved local worker hopes for the best

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - James Sawyer, or as most people know him, "Mr. James", is often the first smiling face to welcome you at the Front Beach Road Walmart in Panama City Beach.

Sawyer said, "My job is to put a smile in place of the frown, and I do that about 99 percent of the time."

The retired veteran said his job is what keeps him going. "A lot of my friends in the past have retired and quit working," said Sawyer. "Three years later they were dead 'cause they sat around."

Recently, Walmart announced it will eliminate greeter positions at 1,000 stores nationwide. Mr. James is one of those greeters. "I feel like they're diminishing my job or making my job look menial or not important," said Sawyer.

According to Sawyer, some customers say they won't return if he is not at the entrance to greet them. His son worries a corporate culture shift is to blame. "Without a true feel of what these people mean to their customers and what they're actually able to accomplish... I don't think they'll ever understand the importance of this position," said Rusty Sawyer.

When asked what he will do if his position is eliminated, Sawyer said, "Well, it's absolutely an unknown until the 26th of April. They may reverse their idea and keep us on, or they may go ahead with what they got planned to do. I don't really know."

One thing he does know... "Like I tell everybody--I like my job, I'd like to keep it," said Sawyer.

While the greeter jobs are going away, Mr. James may still work in another position at the store.

We reached out to the Walmart on Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach where Mr. James works. Officials directed us to a statement from the company's president which says in part:

"Some of the changes, of course, involve tougher choices related to the roles our associates play and how we staff our stores... Where this is the case, we are taking some specific steps to support them [greeters]. For that reason, we are looking into each one on an individual basis with the goal of offering appropriate accommodations that will enable these associates to continue in other roles with their store."

You can read the full statement here.