What comes next with Wal-Mart's plan to open its first store in the District?

Walmart customer checks out at Walmart in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Thursday second-quarter profit rose 17 percent and raised its full-year forecast as the world's largest retailer benefits from low prices that are attracting financially squeezed shoppers in a challenging economy and its campaign to cut costs. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Walmart customer checks out at Walmart in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Thursday second-quarter profit rose 17 percent and raised its full-year forecast as the world's largest retailer benefits from low prices that are attracting financially squeezed shoppers in a challenging economy and its campaign to cut costs. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) (Paul Sakuma - AP)

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By Mike DeBonis
Friday, July 16, 2010

Get ready for the picket lines and raucous community meetings: Wal-Mart is coming.

As The Washington Post first reported this month, the world's largest retailer is eyeing an 11-acre Northeast parcel for its first D.C. store.

We've been through this before.

In 2004, the company explored locating a 100,000-square-foot store at the Rhode Island Place shopping center, adjacent to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro stop. Brookland business and community leaders, allied with union organizers, rallied against it. The company abandoned plans within months, citing that "the site did not meet the requirements to best serve our customers."

Last year, the company looked closely at a site near Poplar Point in Ward 8, but it turned out to be too small and too fraught with potential for government interference.

The game plan for unions, who have long been stalwart foes of the mega-retailer's labor practices, will remain much the same this time.

Earlier this year, an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers got wind of a Wal-Mart community representative's appearance at a meeting of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, an umbrella group of civic organizations in Ward 8. The rep wasn't there to talk about a potential store, only to tout the $400-billion-a-year corporation's various community-service efforts.

A dozen UFCW members came -- sending a message that Wal-Mart wasn't welcome. "They got a dose of what the residents think," says Thomas McNutt, UFCW Local 400 president.

Joslyn N. Williams, leader of the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, says activists will try to get residents to look past the "superficial seductiveness" of those low, low prices.

But the seduction might be less superficial in a city hurting from near-record unemployment. The District needs the jobs, even at near-minimum wages, and residents tend to appreciate the prices.

Take what happened last month in Chicago, a union town if ever there was one. The mega-retailer won an unlikely 50-0 approval from the city council on a deal that lets a second Wal-Mart be built and could allow as many as a dozen others within the city limits. To break the union opposition, Wal-Mart reportedly agreed to pay workers $8.75 an hour -- 50 cents above the city minimum wage -- and after a year, a raise of 40 cents an hour.

The reason for the unanimity is simple: "This is all about jobs," Mayor Richard M. Daley said.


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