Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Case Against Wal-Mart (and the case from its proponents)

The Korean-American Grocers Association of Greater Washington has comprised a list of reasons why District residents should oppose plans to bring Wal-Mart to our city.

1. Walmart may bring 1200 new jobs to DC however, a recent study shows that for every 1 Walmart job, there will be a loss of 1 1/2 jobs from small businesses and their distributors.

2. 50% of the revenue generated by local small businesses, stays in the community but for Walmart only 14% stay in the community and mostly in form of payroll. The rest of the money goes out of the community and to their headquarter (sic) in Arkansas.

3. Roughly 84% of the sales generated by Walmart are taken from existing businesses, therefore many small businesses will be forced to go out of businesses or suffer greatly by loss of sales.

4. In all urban areas where Walmart or big-box stores open, the surrounding areas are left scarred by boarded-up storefronts, thereby lowering the neighborhood moral (sic) and the sense of community is lost.

These reasons do not include accusations made by laborers that Wal-Mart has been sued repeatedly for failing to pay workers the overtime pay they are owed, numerous sex discrimination suits (including the largest sex discrimination suit in american history), and long-running accusations that Wal-Mart systematically prevents many of its workers from unionizing.

Obviously, there is also support for Walmart among District consumers which also has to be discussed. Walmart representatives claimed in the December 2010 edition of the ANC 4C newsletter to have conducted surveys indicating 70% support among Ward 4 residents for the opening of a Walmart there (at the intersection of Georgia and Missouri Ave).

Walmart claims, as mentioned above, that the four stores they plan to open in the District will bring 1200 jobs. In a city with a persistently bleak employment picture for residents who lack a college degree, these type of retail jobs have appeal in our current economic climate that cannot be ignored. Still, there are other big box retailers with a better reputation for worker conditions that we should consider supporting as a city. Walmart is not the only employment option available for District residents.


A mostly positive blog entry illustrating potential benefits and drawbacks of the four proposed Wal-Mart locations is available on the Urban Turf (UT) blog here. No empirical data directly supports or contradicts claims by two quoted sources regarding the proposed New Jersey Ave NW location's lack of "negative [e]ffect" on small retail in the H St NE corridor a few blocks to its east (which starts in earnest around 4th St NE after the mostly vacant 300 block ends). The Korean-American Grocers Association of Greater Washington (KAGAGW), quoted above, clearly disagrees. The blog entry does not include any discussion of potential traffic impact on the three block stretch of H St NW between North Capitol and the entry ramp to 395, which will be on the southern border of this proposed location and is already noticeably congested during rush hour.

As regards the proposed New York Avenue location, Urban Turf makes the rarely-challenged argument will likely bring sorely needed jobs to Ward 5, which UT cites as having a 16% unemployment rate. While KAGAGW argues that such jobs will be offset by job losses in surrounding small businesses, it is not clear whether job losses at businesses in the Bladensberg corridor will offset the potential 300 jobs created at that specific location. The proposed East Capitol & 58th St location discussed by Urban Turf appears to have similar unemployment dynamics in the surrounding neighborhood and UT quotes several sources that seem to look forward to potential new jobs created by the site (a 19% area unemployment rate is cited by UT).

The comments section to the Urban Turf blog posting is decidedly less enthusiastic than the blog author regarding the benefits of Wal-Mart to the District. I hope to see the debate continue in the comments section below this entry.

(Photo by Douglas C. Pizac/AP)

1 comment:

  1. I live in Ward 4 and I want Wal-Mart! Why should the Korean grocers get to decide who their competition will be? Everytime a new restaurant opens, do the existing restaurants get to vote as to whether or not they are permitted to run a legal business? Stop the insanity. The spot on Georgia Aveneue is now a slum.