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Walmart plans to build two more stores in D.C., bringing the total to six, reports The Washington Post. The latest announcement includes stores in Fort Totten in Northeast and one east of the Anacostia River in Skyland.
The promise of new jobs and low prices has drawn support from D.C. officials and residents who say the new stores are a welcome boost to the local economy, particularly east of the river where unemployment is as high as 26 percent. (Two stores are planned for east of the river). Walmart’s D.C. stores will be smaller than their suburban, big box counterparts, and Walmart officials claim the six stores will generate 1,800 retail and 600 construction jobs.
But there are Walmart’s critics, who say D.C. residents don’t need more low-wage jobs. Also, the company has a murky history when it comes to fair treatment of workers. Others fear the chain’s low prices will hurt the District’s small and locally-owned businesses. Much of the anxiety over Walmart coming to town centers around the company’s refusal to sign a community benefits agreement, which would hold the company to its promises over things such as wages.
What do you think: Will Walmart be a benefit to D.C. residents? Take our poll below. You can even enter your own answer.
According to Lydia DePillis at the Washington City Paper, preservationists who wish to stop Walmart from coming to their neighborhood are now trying to throw history in the retailer’s path:
In a classic last-ditch anti-development tactic, the “Brightwood Neighborhood Preservation Association,” headed by Ward 4 Thrives member Verna Collins, has submitted a landmark application for the Car Barn that now sits on the site of the Walmart planned for upper Georgia Avenue.
One of the comments under DePillis’ piece included concerns about gentrification, displacement and the digital divide:
It’s a brilliant move, really. These people are already doing everything they can to price the long-time residents out of the real estate market. So now they’ve banded together to prevent them from having access to cheaply-priced products. In the final stroke of genius, they’re using the digital divide to take advantage of the older, original folks in the neighborhood who probably don’t even realize this fight is happening.
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.
Flickr: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
While the Washington Times probes whether it’s a conflict of interest for Council member Yvette Alexander’s advisers to work as paid consultants for Wal-Mart, over at Colorlines, Juell Stewart examines Michelle Obama’s endorsement of the company.
In January, the first lady joined Wal-Mart executives in southeast D.C.—a traditionally black neighborhood in which the controversial chain recently announced plans to open stores—to announce the company’s effort to make its pre-packaged foods healthier and more affordable than less healthy options by 2015. Obama called it a “huge victory” that left her feeling “more hopeful than ever before.”…
Other critics say that by teaming up with corporate giants like Wal-Mart, the first lady risks undermining activism on other issues, like fair labor practices in communities of color that are increasingly dependent upon service sector jobs.
Cheap food isn’t always nutritious. Could Walmart make healthy food more affordable?
The “huge victory” Obama championed in the Wal-Mart announcement is creating viable choices for informed consumers. She and others have argued that communities can only win if there is cost parity between healthy food and the high-calorie snacks that contribute to obesity. “If you have a dollar menu item and a healthier salad that costs three times as much, it’s not a choice for people living on a limited income,” says Antronette K. Yancey, co-director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity.
Bananas at Walmart.
Over at the City Paper, Lydia DePillis tallies another hash mark for the pro-Walmart contingent:
Count another one who thinks Walmart won’t be all bad: Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning. At a D.C. Building Industry Association event at the National Press Club last night, she pointed out that the city still has food deserts, and that the super-retailer was going into several of them with smaller-format stores that will sell a lot of food. “I’m getting a lot of pushback, a lot of brouhaha, about these stores,” she said. “But you know, they’re bringing groceries.”
At the same time, Tregoning emphasized the need for national tenants to bend to the needs of the surrounding area. “We expect you to build something that fits,” she said. “We can’t expect a suburban store to work in our neighborhoods.” She also extolled the virtues of local retail, and wants to work with the smaller independent stores to “up their game” so they can compete with the incoming giants.
Flickr: Shawn Campbell
Bell peppers, on sale at Walmart, which is committed to making fruits and vegetables more affordable.
Remember how Walmart is planning on opening several stores in the District? Well, due to the considerable influence of our First Lady, who has made nutrition a national priority, those stores will be stocking healthier versions of Walmart’s house-branded foods, as well as more fresh produce:
In interviews previewing the announcement, Wal-Mart and White House officials said the company was also pledging to press its major food suppliers, like Kraft, to follow its example. Wal-Mart does not disclose how much of its sales come from its house brand. But Kraft says about 16 percent of its global sales are through Wal-Mart.
In addition, Wal-Mart will work to eliminate any extra cost to customers for healthy foods made with whole grains, said Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president for corporate affairs. By lowering prices on fresh fruits and vegetables, Wal-Mart says it will cut into its own profits but hopes to make up for it in sales volume. “This is not about asking the farmers to accept less for their crops,” he said.
I know many D.C. residents are less than thrilled about Walmart’s impending arrival, but increasing access to healthy, affordable foods is one way to look at the “bright side” of such a development.
Flickr: Ron Dauphin
Check out this story, “Walmart’s Fifth D.C. Location: Skyland?” from Lydia DePillis at the City Paper:
Speaking on his home turf Saturday, as Veronica Davis reports, Mayor Vince Gray dropped some not-terribly-surprising news: It appears that Target has bailed as a prospective anchor tenant at the still-unbuilt Skyland Town Center, and Walmart has sent the developers a letter of interest in locating there instead. Even if Gray is able to nudge forward the litigation that has kept Skyland in a deep freeze for years, the Rappaport Companies need a big box to take the 129,000-square-foot space–and if Target’s not interested, that doesn’t bode well for other retailers (there’s already a Safeway across the street).
A Rappaport spokeswoman confirms that they are in “preliminary discussions” with Walmart.
If the deal goes through, what would that mean for Walmart’s intentions to locate at its first proposed Ward 7 location, at Capitol Gateway on East Capitol and Southern Avenue? Almost certainly nothing–they’re far enough away that both could survive. Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander hadn’t heard about the company’s intentions for Skyland, but does understand that their ambitions aren’t limited.
Target, Columbia Heights.
Now reading: NPR’s “Big-Box Retailers Move To Smaller Stores In Cities“, which touches on both Walmart’s controversial decision to come to D.C. and the impact such retailers have had on neighborhoods like mine:
Outside the Columbia Heights Target, in a neighborhood of century-old rowhouses, there are mixed opinions about this contemporary attempt at an urban big-box.
Some people love the energy that the new businesses have created.
“It makes you want to come out and spend a little money if you don’t have any anyway,” says Washington native Niecy Stevens, whose car was parked at the curb in front of the store. “So, it brings people together, I guess.”
But neighborhood resident Anne Bouie, who lives nearby, says she is “conflicted.”
“I love Target; I’m not going to lie,” she says.” I’m in there every week. But they’re soul stealers from communities like these. … I mean, look at this. Does this have any spin, any flavor, any style by any criteria?”
Walmart’s controversial arrival in the District has inspired newspaper articles, blog posts, tweets and now…a whole website. Check out “Wal-mart Free DC“:
As District residents, many of Ward 4 in particular, we are coming together to say “No!” to this; no to the the corporate takeover of our neighborhood, no to jobs that will be lost if Wal-Mart opens, no to the driving down of wages in other retail jobs that accompanies Wal-Mart, no to the closing of small businesses (current and future) due to Wal-Mart’s presence, no to the poverty wages that Wal-Mart pays their employees, no to the sweatshop wages that the workers that make many products for Wal-Mart stores are paid, no to the funding of conservative political candidates by Wal-Mart executives and PACs, some of whom oppose Statehood for the District, no to the tax burden that Wal-Mart adds by not paying its employees enough to afford the limited health care that it offers to some, no to the Wal-Mart’s discrimination against women, and on, and on, and on.
The most recent post is a call to march on “the Developer’s House” this Thursday.