Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opened its first store inside the Capital Beltway yesterday.

The Landover Hills store, the closest to the District, is the chain’s latest store in an urban setting. Nationwide, Wal-Mart is focusing on urban locations such as the District, Chicago and Atlanta for new customers as it saturates rural and suburban areas.

The merchandise in these locations has changed, too. In the Landover Hills store, space for suburban youth sports gear and pet products has been cut down and replaced with electronics, ethnic hair products and baby goods, Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said while on a tour of the new store.

“The majority of the merchandise is the same, but some specific items were dialed in for the local community,” he said, adding that the changes in the product line reflect research into the community’s needs.

The store will have an expansive selection of Hispanic groceries — such as Goya beans and rice — and a broader collection of Latin, gospel and R&B music. The store also carries Wal-Mart’s urban clothing line, Exsto, in addition to its Metro 7 and George private clothing lines.

The 144,000-square-foot store isn’t a Supercenter, so it doesn’t have specialty food departments, but the food section is four aisles larger than the typical Wal-Mart.

The store will have 330 employees, and it received more than 11,000 applications, Mr. Restivo said. He said he didn’t have information on how many employees are from Prince George’s County.

Wal-Mart said last month that the Landover Hills store will be one of 10 urban areas it planned to help revitalize with jobs and small-business assistance. The Bentonville, Ark., company said it will select five nearby retailers each quarter to receive in-store and local advertising and small-business education.

Those retailers haven’t been selected. But for now, retailers across the street from the store are just excited something is finally happening at the site, the former Capital Plaza Mall, which had been relatively dead for years.

The shopping center, on Route 450 off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, had fallen into despair following the departures of Montgomery Ward and Hechinger in the late 1990s. Other retailers followed, and customers had no reason to go to the mall.

“The mall needed something to happen. It’s been dead,” said Mimi Gioni, owner of Italian Inn Restaurant across the street from Wal-Mart.

She said the restaurant’s register felt it when Capital Plaza no longer drew crowds. It was “not enough to put us out of business, but it hurt,” she said.

But Ms.Gioni is hopeful some of Wal-Mart’s customers will stop for lunch or dinner at her restaurant.

“If we get 1 percent of Wal-Mart’s business, spending $10 each, multiply that by 365 days per year, that’s a lot,” she said. “We hope big traders follow [Wal-Mart] and set [Route] 450 ablaze.”

Other retailers that don’t have to compete with Wal-Mart said earlier this week that they were looking forward to the opening, too.

“Hopefully people will drive up [Route] 450 and see my Lincoln Mercury dealership and stop in and see what we have,” said Steve Slaughter, a sales and leasing consultant at East West Lincoln Mercury.

Others offered a word of caution.

“I know Wal-Mart, usually, most of its goods are sold at lower than the average market ; whether it’s positive or negative [for the store] is yet to be seen,” said Kenneth Okonkwo, an assistant manager at Duron Paints and Wallcoverings.

But he said he’s not too concerned about business suffering because he sells all types of paint, from low-end, which Wal-Mart will sell, to high-end paint, which he does not expect the giant retailer to sell.

Union and community groups were even more cautious, setting up a press conference Wednesday morning, which was the day Wal-Mart was supposed to open.

“Wal-Mart has a depressing effect on wages and benefits throughout the economy and specifically retail grocery workers,” said Mark Federici, director of strategic programs at United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 400, adding that he’s “concerned” for a Safeway grocery store next door to the Wal-Mart.

The Wal-Mart was scheduled to open earlier this month, but was held up at least twice by permit delays. The store opened yesterday after it was issued a 10-day, temporary use and occupancy permit. Mr. Restivo said the delays were over “run of the mill” issues.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide