A Wal-Mart here--in my Own Backyard??

Wal-Mart is coming!  No, make that multiple Wal-Marts are invading!    The largest retail store in the world (based on revenue) is very interested in setting up a foothold in one of the nation's most powerful city.

There is even talk that Wal-Mart is scouting out Skyland, the decrepit, oft-forgotten strip mall that through a bitterly contested battle in court was seized by eminent domain and now so ripe for development.  Across the street, Clancy's the dark and danky strip club -- the last in the southeast -- closed around a year ago.

Skyland could be Wal-Mart's 5th location in DC

When I first came to DC in 2003, I heard that someone big was coming here.  Seven years later I am still tapping my fingers, hoping for Ikea. Will a big box with a yellow smiley face put me out of misery?

Photo by andrewmtu (DCist)

But Wal-Mart will equate to  jobs, a place to purchase a vast variety of food at attractive prices and spur further urban revitalization.  But that's what they said about Nationals Park four years ago, and I'm still waiting for a place to buy fresh fruit that's not wrapped in plastic at Subway's.

And clearly not everyone is smiling about Wal-Mart's bold announcement.  Last week, a small group of protestors picketed in Woodley Park in front of the home of a developer who has stated that he wants to open stores for Wal-Mart in DC.  This is an effective way of getting a message across -- scare the living daylights out of their children.

There are clearly no shortage of anti-Wal-Mart sentiment across this country and DC is no different.  The litany of complaints is seemingly never ending, starting with ole Smiley being a Bully and their unethical tactics of squeezing down labor costs and fixing prices.

Many Wal-Mart haters are previous employees-- many who labored for less than $8.50 per hour, small business owners who were cruelly crushed by this blossoming behemoth (not just in the US), the labor unions and for many people who carry some form of conscience.

Meanwhile the supporters of Wal-Mart are attracted to its low prices and tout how it can help those who are financially struggling or those who are barely surviving this lingering recession.

Truly, we feel that all points are valid and should be completely aired civically.  The city should not blindly grant Wal-Mart a building permit until the voices of our citizens are heard and understood.

As it appears that we can't make all sides happy (after all, the proposed sites are currently vacant and is in dire need of development), we should try to negotiate the best course of action that will best satisfy the needs and desires of those who live here and those who shop here.

When Wal-Mart tried to open in Indonesia in 1996, they shipped a whole store in a barge.  Then with the rioting during the Asian financial crisis of 1997, their stores were burned down and Wal-Mart never returned.

How Wal-Mart moves in the next several months will be crucial to Wal-Mart's long-term sustainability in DC.

And they've started with a healthy foods campaign just this week (the event was ceremoniously held at THEARC in Congress Heights).  Teaming up FLOTUS with Michelle Obama as a vocal partner, the team announced a nationwide initiative to reduce sugar and sodium in their house brand foods as well as eliminate the cost premium for their healthier options.

This initiative sounds like a clear winner and exactly a viable solution that could alleviate the rampant food desert that exists south of the Anacostia River.  (The 2008 Farm Bill defines a food desert as an "area in the US with limited access to affordable and nutritious food.")

Many activists are pushing for independent grocery stores to solve the food desert issue that is prevalent in underserved parts of the city.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture report that 13 percent of DC households have a limited ability to acquire healthy food economically.   However, it appears that many of the residents in these low-income enclaves want easy access to full-service grocery store that the wealthier neighborhoods have.

How about Giant and Safeway.  Only 16 percent of grocery stores are located east of the Anacostia River.  I painfully know that. I am still delighted by the fact that a Super Giant opened down the road from me less than three years ago -- before this, I had to drive across the River or Maryland to go grocery shopping.

Even today, I personally know of people who have to spend several dollars to catch a metro and bus and expend over an hour commuting just to get fresh milk and eggs.  Frankly, this is uncalled for.

And in many ways, Wal-Mart might be the best solution for the inner cities to close this inexcusable chasm of healthy and affordable food.
Photo by "And Now Anacostia"
Proposed Wal-Mart sites (From DCist)
Wal-Mart wants to open stores in areas that is not served by a local grocery store.  This move may affect local Mom and Pop stores, but this may be the lesser of two evils.

I definitely want to commend Wal-Mart for working w/ the First Lady in the Let's Move campaign to eliminate childhood obesity.

So yes,  perhaps Wal-Mart has engaged in labor and pricing practices that you may not agree with.  And yes, if you feel that way, you are welcomed to remind them of this.  But we should also discuss and negotiate how Wal-Mart can narrow this great divergence in jobs, wages and "affordable nutritious food" that exists in Southeast DC, and yes, even in my own backyard.

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