D.C. can be a tough place to do business, as the world's largest retailer is finding out.
Two years ago, Walmart's announcement that it would open four of six new stores in the District by the end of 2012 was harshly criticized. Forced to delay its overly ambitious construction schedule, Walmart is now under fire for not building the new stores fast enough.
The Arkansas-based company, which rang up $444 billion in sales last year worldwide, launched an unprecedented effort to win over local residents, participating in more than 60 community forums in Wards 4, 5, 6 and 7. Unlike its familiar suburban supercenters, the D.C. stores are smaller and specifically designed for an urban environment, some anchoring mixed-use developments in the city's most economically neglected neighborhoods. The retailer also signed a $21 million community partnership agreement that will benefit local charities.
To his credit, Mayor Vincent Gray welcomed Walmart's decision to create 600 construction and 1,800 retail jobs and bring low-cost groceries and consumer goods to underserved communities where fresh food is hard to find and unemployment is much higher than the city's current average of 9.1 percent. Walmart will generate an estimated $10 million in new tax revenue while reducing D.C.'s still-too-high unemployment rate in areas that have failed to attract other employers. The first store is now scheduled to open next year on the site of a long-shuttered eyesore of a dilapidated former Chevrolet dealership. This is a clear win-win for the city.
That didn't stop 100 demonstrators -- many of them union members who don't even live or work in the District -- from protesting outside Walmart's D.C. Gallery Place office in May to protest the company's personnel practices. However, a full-time job paying an average $12.49 an hour is a huge improvement over subsisting on dwindling unemployment benefits or welfare.
D.C.-based hip-hop artist Head-Roc, who made a "Keep DC Walmart Free!" video, admitted earlier this year to the Huffington Post that he wasn't protesting the imminent arrival of discount retailer Costco because "the Walmart family are right-wing supporting organizations. This is a black Democratic liberal town."
In this most political of cities, politics is the driving force behind the continuing resistance to Walmart's D.C. debut. But the truth is, the District needs Walmart more than Walmart needs the District.