Wal-Mart has indicated that the move will not be possible unless it is offered some tax incentives by the District. It appears as though this is off the table for the Fenty administration. From the BizJournal piece:
“Over the last couple of years we’ve had numerous discussions about [Epperson’s] plans for his site next to Poplar Point,” [Fenty spokesperson Sean] Madigan said and added: “We’re not entertaining any subsidies to bring Wal-Mart to the city for any site.”
No subsides for any site. Fenty's developed a spine, and is putting his foot down. Say no to Wal-Mart. Say no to the big box and everything it represents.
Over at DCist, the commentariat for the most part is outraged and glad that Fenty is standing up to Wal-Mart. I loved this one from elizqueenmama, especially:
NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Trust me, you would rather have that shell stay a shell. Building a Wal-Mart at that location [Rhode Island Avenue] would kill all chance of small locally-owned businesses opening anywhere in the area, and would further encourage the perception of the area as a crappy place you want to drive by as fast as you can. There needs to be another use for that space. NOT another big box store, please! Wal-Mart would indeed be the worst of all. It sucks the souls from people, I swear.
Yes, what depressed, under-served areas of the city need are more "locally-owned" businesses that "serve the neighborhood." More liquor stores, overpriced corner shops and check-cashing places, please.
Is Wal-Mart the perfect retailer? Absolutely not. Wal-Mart does not have a stellar reputation for its working conditions. But wouldn't a Wal-Mart in Southeast (or Northeast) be a good thing for the city?
Let's look at what a Wal-Mart would provide. Immediately there would be construction jobs to build the store. After completion, there would be hundreds of jobs created to staff the store.
Wal-Mart hopes to build a fairly large store it seems, so it would likely include a grocery component. Let's see, what's so bad about low-cost food? Wal-Mart is the nation's largest grocery store, and they have been investing in more organic choices. A Wal-Mart in the eastern part of the city could provide many, many, residents with lower-cost, (possibly) healthier foods. Coupled with the low-cost pharmacy and other goods, a Wal-Mart that was easily accessible would be invaluable to many of the District's residents, especially many lower income residents.
In 2004, Brookland residents were worried about a Wal-Mart killing local businesses. Let's really look at that. Are some mom-and-pop retailers at risk when a low-cost big box store comes to town? Absolutely. In my neighborhood, for example, in the last two years two new grocery stores have opened. Harris Teeter and the Target. Have some small "local" grocery stores suffered. Maybe. Do I care? Not particularly. If a corner market's business model is to seriously overcharge what are mostly lower income customers, I feel very little pity. These small stores create little, if any, jobs and charge astronomically high prices compared to Safeway, Giant, Target or Wal-Mart. These places are not a good deal. It's not their fault, they can't get the same price for goods that the big chains can. But for everyone except the owners, the prices they charge are too high. Should residents feel an obligation to subsidize a business with an unsustainable model just because they are "locally owned?" Take a walk to your corner store, and see the price of milk. Compare that to Safeway. It's ridiculous. Don't tell me that these stores are vital to our community.
I used to work for a small business. I worked for an independent hardware retailer when the Target opened. There was some concern that we would lose business. We probably did lose a bit of business. What did we do? We aimed to be as efficient as possible and further improve customer service. Make the shopping experience better at our store than at Target. Businesses that provide a viable and valuable alternative will survive. Businesses that likely shouldn't even exist (e.g. most corner markets) will suffer.
There are great portions of the District that are vastly under-served by business. Wal-Mart thrives in these environments. Bringing a Wal-Mart to the city would make a lot of things a lot more affordable for a lot of people. Wal-Mart should not be off the table.
The city jumped at getting Target to move to Columbia Heights. Just read Jim Graham's web site, talking about passing emergency TIF measures to ensure Target came to D.C. What does the city get out of the deal? A parking lot that no one uses. How surprising that a parking lot next to a Metro station in a walkable area isn't used very much. Target is a big box that put a lot of pressure on businesses in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant and Adams Morgan. The area has survived (and even thrived, perhaps), though. Mount Pleasant had shuttered shops before and will continue to until some serious efforts are made at promoting more commercial development.
Why yes to Target, and no to Wal-Mart? Is it because Target is more upscale? Is it because Columbia Heights was up-and-coming and the Target would be the linchpin of further gentrification? Why is it off the table to bring a different big box to a part of the city that would see a great benefit? Why not at least say the city would be open to working with Wal-Mart to create a destination area that was easily accessible?
Wal-Mart is by no means the perfect retailer. However, it could provide a much needed resource to many District residents who are in need. To not even consider it as an option is foolish.