“Their prices are more reasonable than the local supermarkets’,” he said, while resting on his cart in the butcher section of the six-month-old Wal-Mart on a recent Tuesday morning. “I can get everything on my list and still have money left over.”
Matthews, like many of the shoppers strolling around the Wal-Mart, views the opening of the store as a economic blessing amid a fledgling recovery that has yet to hit his wallet. Area retailers, however, are divided on whether the new store is a gift or a curse. Some have benefited from the spillover of customers, while others have been driven out of business.
As Wal-Mart sinks its teeth into the District with four planned stores, its detractors are concerned that, among other things, the big-box retailer will squelch competition, much as it has elsewhere. Supporters of the store say that argument ignores the beneficial impact on neighborhood retail clusters, not to mention on consumers such as Matthews.
Wal-Mart, with its low prices and array of products, has an undeniable consumer appeal, which has made it a bankable anchor tenant for numerous developments. In Alexandria, the store anchors JBG Rosenfeld’s Kings Crossing development, which is slated for some 20,000 square feet of additional retail and multifamily housing.
Last week was the first time Eva Shea of Del Ray visited that Wal-Mart, where she dropped by to pick up storage containers for the lacrosse league she runs. The mother of three is a loyal customer of Target, at 6600 Richmond Hwy., but wanted to check out the competition.
“I had no idea there was all this food,” she said. “You can get everything all at once, instead of having to go to a whole bunch of little places.”
Given Wal-Mart’s popularity and customer profile, David A. Ward, president of brokerage firm H&R Retail, said it’s not uncommon for retailers such as Payless Shoes or Ross to want to share space with the big-box store.
“Wal-Mart drives bodies,” he said. “But you’re not going to see many retailers come in and thrive on the heels of Wal-Mart.”
Holly Hicks Dougherty, executive director of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, contends that retailers of all types can find success along Richmond Highway, which is underserved by a variety of stores despite significant consumer demand — an argument often made by Wal-Mart proponents in the District.
Members of the chamber, she pointed out, don’t perceive Wal-Mart as a threat, especially since there are a number of national retailers already lining the highway. Mom-and-pop shops in the area consider their wares different enough that competition from the big-box store is of little consequence, Dougherty said.