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News in brief

April 24, 2021 at 1:44 a.m.

Pickup towers on way out at Walmart

Walmart Inc. is phasing out its big orange in-store pickup towers as customers increasingly choose curbside service to collect online orders.

"We're always listening to customer feedback," a Walmart spokeswoman said Thursday. "They told us they wanted one pickup point and they'd prefer it be outside."

The Bentonville-based retailer has the 17-foot towers in more than 1,500 stores. They function much like giant vending machines that dispense orders customers placed online. But curbside pickup, instituted about the same time as the towers, outpaced them in popularity.

Walmart has been removing or turning off the kiosk-like machines. About 300 are being removed from the stores and another 1,300 "hibernated," Bell & Howell chief executive Larry Blue told The Wall Street Journal. Bell & Howell installed and maintain the automated towers.

In April 2019, Walmart executives said the company was building 11 of the devices and planned to put 900 in its supercenters and Neighborhood Markets by the year's end. By February 2020, Walmart said that it had about 1,500 towers in stores.

-- Serenah McKay

March barge work increases at LR port

The Port of Little Rock worked 47 barges and handled 71,000 tons of cargo in March, an increase in both categories compared with the same month last year.

The port worked 34 barges and handled 53,000 tons of cargo in March 2020, according to the latest port data.

March also marked the first time the port's outbound barge loadings exceeded inbound barge unloadings with 28 of the 47 barges being outbound. The lack of inbound barges makes potentially more costly to ship goods from the port and can lead to more delays because of the lack of barge availability.

Last month's barge and cargo totals still left the port short in both categories through the first three months of 2021, thanks mainly to snow that slowed operations across the dock in February.

The port worked 89 barges and handled 134,000 tons of cargo in the first quarter, which ended March 31. In the same three months in 2020, the port 103 barges and 156,000 tons.

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, of which the Little Rock port is a part, carried 887,266 tons of cargo in March, a nearly 11% increase compared with the same month in 2020, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The system carried almost 2.5 million tons through the first three months of 2021.

-- Noel Oman

Arkansas Index adds 6.44, ends at 604.08

The Arkansas Index, a price-weighted index that tracks the largest public companies based in the state, closed Friday at 604.08, up 6.44.

The index was developed by Bloomberg News and the Democrat-Gazette with a base value of 100 as of Dec. 30, 1997.

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