Walmart has arrived, and the sky hasn’t fallen. Nor has the chain’s presence ushered in a new era of urban-format big-box retail. Instead, the interiors of D.C.’s first two Walmarts look, well, pretty much like a Walmart. A gallon of whole milk is 14 cents cheaper than at Target and four cents cheaper than at Giant. And life goes on.
But the battle leading up to the opening of those two stores on Dec. 4—to be followed by three or four more—was much more dramatic. The sparring had been taking place since the Arkansas-based retailer announced in 2010 that it was coming to the District, but it began in earnest this June 26, when the D.C. Council passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act. It would have required retailers with stores over 75,000 square feet and parent companies grossing at least $1 billion per year to pay a “living wage” of $12.50 an hour, minus benefits.
Walmart immediately cried foul. Not two weeks after the bill passed, Walmart announced it would cancel plans for three of its D.C. stores and re-evaluate the other three if the bill became law. The Council defied the threat and reaffirmed its vote in a final roll call a day later. And the fight was on.
A group of clergy urged Mayor Vince Gray to sign the bill. A group of retailers urged him to veto it. So did the mysterious organization Don’t Block D.C. Progress, which turned out to be Walmart-backed.
Gray chose goods over God; the same day as his veto announcement, Walmart said all its stores were back on. Two days after the Council failed to override Gray’s veto, Walmart announced it would open two hiring centers. In just the first week of applications, more than 11,000 people applied for what was initially just 600 jobs at the first two D.C. stores. People lined up hours early on opening day at the new stores on H Street NW and Georgia Avenue. Whatever else you say about them—and D.C. will keep saying a lot, no doubt—the Walmarts so far appear to be popular.