- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Wednesday that Wal-Mart plans to build six stores across the city and threw his full support behind the proposal, saying the company opening two more locations than planned is a much-needed job creator in a city with pockets of 20-percent unemployment.

He also vowed to “fight tooth and nail” to place D.C. residents in the 1,800 retail and 600 construction jobs expected to be created at the sites in four different wards.

Mr. Gray, flanked by executives from the retail giant, formally announced the additional Wal-Mart locations — at Fort Totten Square, in Ward 4, and the Skyland Town Center, in Ward 7.

The four original locations are Georgia and Missouri avenues Northwest, in Ward 4; New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road Northeast, in Ward 5; New Jersey Avenue Northwest, in Ward 6; and East Capitol and 58th streets Southeast, in Ward 7.

All of the stores would be completed by 2013, except for the one on the city-owned land at the Skyland location, said Victor L. Hoskins, deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

Mr. Gray’s announcement, at the Hillcrest Recreation Center in Ward 7, puts a stamp on Wal-Mart’s long and contentious effort to penetrate D.C. borders for the first time.

City officials are working with Wal-Mart on a so-called “community benefits package” that could include stipulations on how many D.C. residents must be hired, as they touted the Arkansas-based corporation’s arrival as a way to bring jobs and much-needed retail and grocery options to underserved sections of the city.

D.C. residents shopping elsewhere costs the city about $1 billion annually, Mr. Gray said.

The mayor characterized the addition of two locations as Wal-Mart’s idea but said he pushed for one location to be at the Skyland center. He said the surrounding community has waited more than 20 years for an anchor tenant to spur development.

Mr. Gray, council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, who live in the nearby Hillcrest neighborhood, argued Wal-Mart’s arrival would mean residents east of the Anacostia River would now have what other city residents have.

“They want to shop and eat in their neighborhood,” Mr. Brown said.

Still, critics questioned Wal-Mart’s ability to pay a living wage and the store’s impact on smaller shops.

Kevin B. Chavous, who is running for Ms. Alexander’s Ward 7 seat, said six stores might be too much.

“I am worried about the effect it will have on small business owners and entrepreneurs,” he said.

Mr. Chavous praised the idea of reviving the long-dormant Skyland center but said he would like to see Wal-Mart offer concrete, binding benefits to the community.

More than a dozen members of the Respect DC group attended Wednesday’s news conference to push for clear-cut promises from the retailer. Among them was Yukiea Sheppard, who said she lives near the Skyland center but never made more than $9 per hour when she worked for Wal-Mart about three years ago.

“They’re afraid to put it in writing,” she said.

Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo assured the audience that pay would exceed that of competing grocery stores in the area.

Ms. Alexander said Wal-Mart would be “good for our ward.”

“I think competition is very healthy and makes everyone step up their game,” she said.

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