Wal-Mart critics plot to stop 4-store ‘invasion’ in D.C.

It’s official.

Now that Wal-Mart’s applications have been filed formally with the D.C. office of planning, the battle over the retailer’s entry into the nation’s capital is joined in earnest.

The nation’s biggest retailer wants to build four stores in the city. One, in Ward 4, would replace a flea-market lot and a building plastered with fading green-and-white campaign posters for former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Another would be built in the “NoMa” area off the H Street Northwest corridor in Ward 6, near the U.S. Government Printing Office. The other two are strategically placed at gateways to the city — along East Capitol Street in Ward 7, where Mayor Vincent C. Gray lives, and on New York Avenue in Ward 5, home to Harry Thomas Jr., chairman of the council’s Committee on Economic Development.

The first D.C. Wal-Mart, at the busy intersection of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast, is slated for a groundbreaking this fall. The inner-city locations are part of a new era for the Arkansas-based company, which built its empire of rural and exurban locations far from the country’s major urban centers.

All told, Wal-Mart officials say, their four-store plan in the District could mean an estimated $10 million in tax revenue, hundreds of initial construction jobs and about 1,200 full-time jobs. To ease concerns of residents and other stakeholders, Wal-Mart plans to hold local job fairs for construction and store employees.

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Company executives say the stores also would offer fresh produce, a direct nod to the concerns of people such as first lady Michelle Obama, who is on the front lines of battling childhood obesity. The local news website DCist.com also reported this week that Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest gun retailer, has promised not to sell guns and firearms at its D.C. sites.

To Wal-Mart critics, none of that matters. They use sharp words — “war,” “invasion” and “destruction of this city” — to describe the magnitude of the threat they say the company poses.

The critics are especially vocal in Ward 4, where Wal-Mart wants to replace a long-vacant car dealership site with a store at Georgia and Missouri avenues Northwest, a major crossroad surrounded by single-family homes and brimming with mom-and-pop retailers.

While some D.C. lawmakers who live in Ward 4 appear willing to work with Wal-Mart, some longtime residents and community organizers are dead-set against the retailer’s stores anywhere inside city limits. One effort is called “Wal-Mart Free DC”; another bills itself as “Ward Four Thrives.” Both groups count local businesses, residents and union members among their ranks.

These community organizers say they don’t even want to consider working out a deal with the company.

“There is no compromise. This is a war,” said Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture, who once worked in the office of Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, Georgia Democrat.

Ms. Nkrumah-Ture made her comments after a screening of the film “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” late last week at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street.

When a reporter asked several viewers at the screening whether there was a Plan B if Wal-Mart doesn’t deal with their concerns, one Ward 4 resident shot back, “Plan B?”

“There is no Plan B,” another woman in the group said.

About 70 people viewed the 2005 documentary, which captures activists and former Wal-Mart employees in U.S. and Asian communities complaining that the world’s largest retailer is anti-union, biased against women and harmful to local businesses and the environment.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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