- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas lights, family-size frozen lasagna, gaming systems, and even Dallas Cowboys sweatshirts are just some of the items available to customers beginning Wednesday, when two Wal-Mart stores open their doors in the District and usher in a new era in urban big-box retail.

Wal-Mart stores on H Street in Northwest and Georgia Avenue in Northwest are set to open Wednesday morning and stay open every day of the week from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Store officials Tuesday gave reporters an early look inside the H Street store, which occupies the second floor of a massive brick building just blocks from Union Station and the U.S. Capitol.

“What we offer here is a little bit of everything inside the box,” said Eric Quist, manager of the H Street store. “We want to take care of everyday living, be one-stop shopping.”

The Arkansas-based chain made a name for itself 50 years ago with a business model that offered low-end merchandise to low-wage customers at low prices — in part by paying its workers low-wage salaries.

But the model suffered during the recession, and Wal-Mart announced several years ago it planned to enter city markets.

The chain has opened stores in some of the nation’s largest cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Union opposition in New York has prevented any stores from opening in New York City.

The retail giant announced in 2011 it planned to build six stores within the District, bringing with them more than 2,000 retail and construction jobs and a sought-after position as an anchor store for a long-struggling Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 — the home of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

Even with the promise of jobs and a deal that the stores would not sell guns or ammunition in the District, critics spoke out against the retailer’s plans, voicing concerns for the effects the international retail chain could have on local small businesses, questioning design plans and disapproving of its employee wages.

A bill passed by the council in July would have forced a 50 percent hike to the minimum wage paid by certain large retailers. Called a “job killer” by Mr. Gray, Wal-Mart leaders responded by threatening to pull its plans for Ward 5 and 7 stores and said plans for the stores already being built were also in jeopardy.

Mr. Gray vetoed the bill, and the council fell short in an attempt to override the veto.

Mr. Quist, 55, a former warrant officer with the U.S. Navy and 20-year Wal-Mart employee, did not talk specifics of the wage debate but said Wal-Mart was “right in with or exceeded the competitive wage.”

Greeting his staff as they put the finishing touches on the new store, Mr. Quist said that while the H Street location might be smaller than the average Wal-Mart, it offers the same wide range of foods, goods, and services— customers can fill their prescriptions and also pick up a hunting and fishing license — but in a more convenient location in downtown Washington.

The H Street store takes up about 74,000 square feet, compared to its sibling store along Georgia Avenue that spans 105,000 square feet.

Both boast brick facades accented by glass and steel, and eco-friendly features such as skylights, rainwater retention systems and electric vehicle stations.

The features are just some of the benefits offered by the retail giant as it maneuvers its way from the suburbs to center city.

Asked what he expected most customers will come looking for if they visit his store, Mr. Quist said it would likely be home goods.

“While the first guess might be for consumables, it will likely be home-goods, housewares,” he said. “Everyday needs you have to go out for and get.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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