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Wal-Mart in negotiations to open D.C. store

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, July 5, 2010; 4

Fresh off a deal with the City of Chicago that will allow Wal-Mart Stores to open more than a dozen locations there, the mega-retailer is closing in on an agreement to open its first store in D.C.

Wal-Mart is negotiating to open a store on New York Avenue NE near the intersection of Bladensburg Road, on a parcel owned by a family in the taxicab business, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

The chain, which has expressed interest in opening a store in the city for years as part of its expansion into major urban markets, has not yet signed a lease but is expected to by this fall, the sources said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the companies to discuss the details.

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., agreed to a deal with the Chicago City Council on June 30 that gives it the green light to open its second store there by 2012 and two dozen or more stores in the city in coming years. Spokesman Steven Restivo said the agreement exhibits the company's interest in building outlets in urban areas.

"Wal-Mart does not have any new projects to announce in the [the District], but we continue to evaluate opportunities that would allow us to create jobs and provide affordable groceries to D.C. residents," he said.

Brothers Andrew, Dave and Jerry Schaeffer own both a large local taxi company and more than 11 acres in the triangle bounded by New York and Montana avenues and Bladensburg Road NE, property that includes a strip club and used auto parts shops. Until earlier this year, the brothers had contracted with D.C. developer Jim Abdo on a plan to build a massive housing and retail complex on the site, but the deal fell through after the real estate and credit markets collapsed.

Abdo said the Schaeffers' land could be an "ideal location" for Wal-Mart. He said he had previously discussed the site with Wal-Mart officials, but at the time he had planned a housing-focused development with only 140,000 square feet of retail, which is smaller than many Wal-Mart stores. With housing out of the picture, he said, Wal-Mart could build the sort of large store and surface parking lot to which it is accustomed, along one of the city's busiest corridors.

"What it was termed as when we were doing it was a billboard opportunity to be in the nation's capital," Abdo said. "When you've got 80,000 cars that go by your front door, that's about as good as it gets from a retail perspective."

Andrew Schaeffer, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Unlike other D.C. sites Wal-Mart has considered in recent years, such as property near Poplar Point in Anacostia, building a store on New York Avenue would likely require no zoning changes or city subsidies, possibly allowing the company to sidestep many of the political concerns it attracts because of its uneasy relations with organized labor.

Wal-Mart is one of the country's largest employers, with 1.4 million jobs as of March. A D.C. Wal-Mart could help stem the flight of shoppers -- and their accompanying sales taxes -- to the suburbs.

Gary D. Rappaport, the retail developer who owns and manages the Wal-Mart-anchored Mount Airy Shopping Center in Mount Airy, Md., said he expected a New York Avenue Wal-Mart would succeed. He has discussed bringing a Wal-Mart to Skyland Shopping Center, in Southeast D.C.

"Wal-Mart's been wanting to open stores in Washington, D.C., for many years, and I think it's a great location and I think they'll be very successful there," he said. "And I think based on that success, it will be confirmed to them that Washington, just like Chicago, is another city where they need to open a number of stores."

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