Wal-Mart News, Fast and Furious
It seems like the whole world has turned upside down in 24 hours, as Wal-Mart–which for years circled D.C., kicking the tires of various locations–announced four stores all at once and set up a web site offering helpful tips for how you can "lend your voice of support to the Wal-Mart community." And this isn't the end of it. While hammering out plans for its initial foursome, it's still actively pursuing others, and spokesman Steve Restivo says it's too early to say what the company's upper limit might be.
A few months ago, I asked the question: Is it possible for Wal-Mart to fit into D.C.'s urban context? The signs, so far, are mixed. To correct something of a misperception, while Wal-Mart has been piloting its smaller "Marketplace" stores, that's not the thrust of its development in D.C. at the moment. Each of the planned stores is between 80,000 and 120,000 square feet, which is fairly typical for the company.
And how the stores ultimately look will, in large part, be up to the developers at each respective site. The one on New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE is being built by Rick Walker of WV Urban Development, who is also bringing Wal-Mart to Baltimore's 25th Street Station, which will include 70 units of housing. Foulger-Pratt, which had previously planned to build on the Curtis Chevrolet site on upper Georgia Avenue, will still be handling that project. The Business Journal reports that the 801 New Jersey Avenue site is owned by the District but controlled by the Bennett Group, which will incur penalties if it doesn't have a development plan by January. The fourth site, at the Capitol Gateway project, already has quite a bit of housing. The developers will make decisions like whether to build acres of surface parking or spaces in garages or underground.
One relatively progressive element: None of the stores, Restivo says, will sell guns. (But will they sell porn?)
To bolster its case for entering the D.C. market, Wal-Mart commissioned a survey of 800 D.C. residents from Democratic pollster Ron Lester. Predictably, it shows strong support for the retailer, especially in wards 7 and 8, and especially among black residents (all of the questions are broken out along racial lines). Here's a chart of one question, asking people to rank their preference of stores:
It doesn't exactly conflict with the poll that Wal-Mart's greatest nemesis, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, put out a few months ago. That one just emphasized that even people who're okay with Wal-Mart want to see it pay fair wages and hire local.