Walmart Inc. said it will invest $500 million in its Canadian operations this year to refurbish more than half of its stores in the country, while also announcing plans to shut down six outlets. 

Walmart said it will use the funds to modernize and improve roughly 60 per cent of the company's Canadian stores with new lighting, exterior signage and new areas to facilitate e-commerce sales. The investment is part of a five-year $3.5-billion spending plan that Walmart announced last July for its Canadian business to create "smarter stores" as well as build new distribution centres. Walmart has more than 400 stores in Canada. 

"We are on a mission to modernize all aspects of our business and that includes our stores," said Horacio Barbeito, president and chief executive officer of Walmart Canada, in a statement. 

"Investing in our stores is a major priority. In so many cases our stores are pillars in the community, and we want them at their best – especially as we serve our customers in more omnichannel ways."

Walmart said the store improvements will create more than 2,000 construction jobs. 

Six of the retailer's stores will be closed after the company "evaluated its store network to meet customer needs". Half of those stores are located in Ontario (Mississauga, Hamilton, and Kitchener); the others are in Calgary, Edmonton, and St. John's. Walmart said all affected employees will be offered jobs at nearby Walmart locations.  

Big box stores like Walmart and Home Depot Inc. have faced criticism over the past year for being allowed to keep their doors open during lockdown periods in Canada while small businesses were forced to close. A report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business on Monday​ showed that less than one-third of the country's small businesses said their sales have returned to normal, while most small business owners are concerned about mounting debt and mental burnout. 

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