D.C.'s mom 'n' pops afraid of Walmart

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Local,DC,Maryland,Liz Farmer
The District's family-owned businesses are worried Walmart will kill their livelihoods if the retailer forges ahead with plans to open four locations in the coming years.

The concern comes particularly from the two proposed locations in Northwest, where small businesses are established and development is denser.

"It's going to affect a lot of our business," said Sean Kim, manager of the Georgia Avenue Food Barn, which has been at its location near the proposed Walmart at Georgia and Missouri avenues for more than 30 years.

"As a supermarket, they're basically wholesale price," Kim said. "Obviously we're going to lose."

Report: Urban Walmarts are zero-sum gain
¥ Probability of going out of business "significantly higher" for those closer to Walmart.
¥ Walmart sales replaced "but did not enhance" retail activity in surrounding area.
¥ Claims that Walmart leads to development growth "must be considered skeptically."
Source: 2009; Center for Urban Research and Learning, Loyola University Chicago

Kim, whose parents own the business, said he hoped alcohol sales would distinguish them from the superstore.

"We'll probably concentrate more in beer and wine instead of grocery -- that's just something we'll have to give up."

The Walmarts are scheduled to open in late 2012 and will sell groceries and general merchandise as well as offer a pharmacy. Each store will be between 80,000 and 120,000 square feet.

West of Union Station, some are skeptical that the planned Walmart at New Jersey Avenue and H Street is even needed.

"I think we've got enough local grocery [stores] around," said Jeremy Frost, manager of 5th Street Ace Hardware, noting that two family-owned markets and a Safeway were within walking distance to the proposed site. "They drive local small businesses out of business."

Steven Restivo, Walmart's director of community affairs, said that's not always true.

"Across the country in rural, suburban and urban markets, our stores coexist with small, medium and large businesses," he said. "In the majority of those cases, our stores are actually a magnet for growth and development."

The four D.C. locations will bring 1,200 jobs and 400 construction jobs, he added.

Ward 4 Councilman Tommy Wells has set a private meeting this week between company representatives and D.C. employment interests but no community meetings have been scheduled on the superstore, which announced its move to D.C. two weeks ago.

Wells' chief of staff, Charles Allen, said the councilman "will absolutely be having conversations with all stakeholders in area ... and that includes small business."

Walmart's first store inside the Capital Beltway opened in Landover

in 2007. There, residents and community groups spent nearly two years negotiating with the superstore to limit the amount of groceries it sells and hours of operation, among other things. Walmart also agreed to pay for local newspaper ads for small businesses and meet regularly with area leaders.

Those who live in the area said business interest in the free advertising has died down but the massive parking lot and runaway shopping carts have irritated residents.

"They just brought a lot of trash, crime and so forth," said Sandee Loveday, a nearby resident who was involved in the negotiations.

Walmart's proposed Northeast locations -- one at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road and the other near the Capitol Heights Metro station -- are not as controversial because there are fewer small retailers in those areas.

The New York Avenue store would be part of a retail development that would include another big box store. Its developer, Rick Walker, is behind a similar project in Baltimore that includes a Walmart and Lowe's Home Center.

The fourth store would be part of the Capitol Gateway mixed-use development.

Walmart has said it is willing to adapt the stores to their urban landscapes. But some say that's not the point.

"It's dangerous for the city," Frost said. "It's a slippery slope. Once you let four Walmarts in ... I can see a lot of developments turning to big box businesses."

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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