Aldi versus Walmart in D.C.


Flickr: Laura Mary

Walmart is trying its darnedest to open up stores in New York City (sound familiar?). In light of their fight, The New York Times has this piece today examining how little talk there has been about discount grocer Aldi opening stores throughout the city.

Even though Aldi, like Wal-Mart, is nonunion, it has faced little resistance, compared with the heated opposition often headed by unions and politicians that Wal-Marts have encountered in larger markets.

“There’s no reason to oppose an Aldi — it’s a small format, and they usually get space from an existing landowner or landlord, a small guy who’s plugged into the community, not a big guy like a Forest City Ratner,” Mr. Johnson said. “Wal-Mart has sort of become a bad guy that there’s a concerted effort against. I’m not sure that Aldi has really gotten on anyone’s radar screen.”

Same story in D.C., for the most part. Aldi broke ground in September 2010 on its first D.C. store, slated for a site in Northeast close to a shuttered Safeway. No mass protests against bringing a nonunion Aldi to town; rather, much of the talk was oozing with references to what class of folks this Aldi would cater to and what that would do to the gentrifying neighborhood’s image.

But the Aldi backlash was nowhere as organized or large as the District’s anti-Walmart campaign has been, which is largely focused on Walmart’s reputation on workers’ rights and the effect it will have on existing small businesses. But as the Times points out, Aldi is no union-lover either and with steep discounts it too could very well undercut many other small, independent stores. Could it be the small size of Aldi stores that doesn’t spur folks into such action? Perhaps it’s fact that Walmart is planning four stores, not just one? Or does the stereotypical image of Walmart being a hallmark of sprawling suburbs contribute to the heat behind this debate?

Among Walmart supporters are a number of District residents living in food deserts, folks who have said they have no use in having a Harris Teeter or Whole Foods in their communities since they can’t afford their prices.

That point was raised during a February Walmart community meeting I covered during which opponents and proponents made impassioned arguments. Nearing the end of the meeting, Councilman Tommy Wells (Ward 6) said, “If this were an office building of the same size, we wouldn’t be here tonight.. I believe one of the only reasons we’re here is because it’s a Walmart.”

Would they have been there if it was an Aldi, instead?

See out Aldi’s D.C.-area locations here or on this map:

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  • IMGoph

    not sure what you mean about a shuttered safeway. the safeway across the street from where aldi is supposed to go is still open for business.

  • Elahe Izadi

    eek, you’re right. Will correct. Thanks!