Wal-Mart greets first customers in D.C.

Mayor, council member join neighbors in touting the stores’ benefits

Mayor Vincent C. Gray cut a ceremonial ribbon Wednesday morning marking the opening of the first Wal-Mart in the District alongside one of the principal challengers for his job next year.

Mr. Gray and D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser greeted the first customers to the store on Georgia Avenue Northwest and touted the benefits Wal-Mart brings to the city. Mr. Gray stressed the employment opportunities while Miss Bowser, in whose ward the store is located, talked about the amenities available to area residents.

“We fought for a long time to make sure that this store would really represent what we want in our ward — a high-quality building, fantastic products and wonderful services,” the Ward 4 Democrat said.

Miss Bowser’s supporters stood outside the store with nominating petitions asking for signatures to support her bid for mayor.

The store was one of two that opened in the District on Wednesday, the first of six that Wal-Mart has committed to build in the city. It is on the former site of the historic car barn that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty used as his campaign headquarters when he was unseated from his post by Mr. Gray in 2010.

With the two new Wal-Mart stores bringing 800 jobs to the District, Mr. Gray emphasized residents’ enthusiasm for more employment options in the city.

“Those who said nobody would be interested in these jobs should know that we had 23,000 applicants for the jobs at Wal-Mart,” he said.

Others hope the store sparks a revitalization of surrounding Georgia Avenue, which is home to the police department’s 4th District headquarters, a string of liquor and dollar stores, and several small eateries.

Wal-Mart was not the community choice early on,” said Carlton Davis, vice president of the Beacon Brightwood Business Alliance. “But it’s going to bring business.”

Mr. Gray and Miss Bowser have taken heat over their support of Wal-MartMiss Bowser in the initial planning stages of the project and Mr. Gray more recently when he vetoed legislation that would have forced Wal-Mart and a select group of other large retailers to pay higher minimum wages.

“I would say they are equally accountable for this store,” said Mike Wilson, a member of Ward 4 Thrives, an organization that opposed the construction of the Wal-Mart.

Mr. Wilson said the group plans to monitor Wal-Mart’s impact on surrounding businesses as well as traffic in the area.

While a few protesters gathered outside the Georgia Avenue store, holding signs that criticized wages paid by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., they were far outnumbered by a flood of shoppers who navigated the aisles in a state of awe.

Audrey Tolbert, a 65-year-old retiree who walked a few blocks from her home, said she’ll no longer have to travel to Silver Spring for shopping trips.

“This makes a big difference,” Ms. Tolbert said, adding that she was impressed by Mr. Gray’s political leadership when it came to ensuring Wal-Mart opened in the District. “He did prove a lot for me.”

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