City Desk

Here’s What Happened When the District’s First Walmarts Opened

walmart

Dorothy Whitaker stood with her full shopping cart in the middle of the Walmart on Georgia Avenue NW while her adult daughter picked up some other items around the 100,000-square-foot store.

A fellow shopper had told her that someone had stolen a coveted TV from his cart, so Whitaker was standing guard over hers.

Other than that, she said, the new Walmart is great.

"It's long-needed here," said Whitaker, who has been a D.C. resident her entire life and typically drives with her daughter out to a Walmart in Maryland.

The Georgia Avenue store in Brightwood is one of two Walmarts to make its grand opening in the city today. The other is on H Street NW. These are the first two stores the retail powerhouse has in the District; at least three more are scheduled to open.

And if the first day is any indication, it looks like the demand for the store is there. Dozens of people lined up outside to enter right as it opened at 8 a.m. (The store had a lot of the electronics deals that other outlets had sold out of on Black Friday, which may have accounted for some of the draw.)

These most ardent Walmart supporters were unsurprisingly pretty pleased that the retailer was opening in the District. But the multi-billion dollar corporation's entry into D.C. was anything but welcoming. Many D.C. residents and leaders were wary of the store coming to the city, fearful it would hurt local businesses. At one point, Walmart threatened to pull out entirely if the city passed legislation that would have required corporations with more than $1 billion in global sales and operating in spaces larger than 75,000 square feet to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour, or nearly 50 percent higher than the city's current $8.25 minimum wage.

There were a few protesters outside today chanting things like "There is no justice in a Walmart," but the shoppers there were just happy to have the retailer in their neighborhood.

"The prices are cheaper," said Maria Cruz, who has lived in Petworth for 23 years.

The delayed Black Friday prices went quickly: By just after 8:30, the store had sold out of all its PlayStation 4s, which were going for $399 apiece.

"It's a wonderful idea putting it in this neighborhood," said Jay Moore, who arrived to the store at 6:00 a.m. and snagged a PlayStation and a TV. "I'm trying to get a job here."

The Georgia Avenue store alone has 300 employees, and a good chunk of them were working the grand opening, which featured free samples from suppliers and people dressed up as the Utz potato chip and Cheetos mascots, as well as Batman and Robin.

"I'm fired up," said Cathy Adams, who works in produce (and seemed to be quoting a cheer that employees are taught).

Alex Barron, a regional general manager for Wal-Mart who was on site for the opening, said he was excited with how everything turned out. He was also doggedly on message. When I asked him what he thought of the D.C. Council's decision yesterday to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, he said he wouldn't talk about it today.

Photo by Perry Stein

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  • Unfounded

    #1: ...The store had a lot of the electronics deals that other outlets had sold out of on Black Friday....
    #2 ...Many D.C. residents and leaders were wary of the store coming to the city, fearful it would hurt local businesses.

    #1 suggests that the fears are unfounded, or at least should serve as notice local businesses to step up and stock up. (And I wonder what local businesses were offering Black Friday electronics deals? Not many of the mom-and-pops or bodegas I know feature a large electronics department.)

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