D.C. welcomes Wal-Mart, and Marion Barry wants to limit welfare payments - what's happening?

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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 11:20 PM

The economy must remain in a deep freeze if the announcement of Wal-Mart coming to town gets cheers in D.C. and Marion Barry starts dissing his most impoverished constituents.

In the same week!

Don't forget, it was only recently that the city was clamoring for more Whole Foods outlets (with custom gelateria this time, por favor, and make sure that roof is green) and Barry (D-Ward 8) was handing out city contracts to his girlfriend like they were bonbons and flowers.

But in these more sober times, the announcement that Wal-Mart is planning to build four stores and employ at least 1,200 people is met as a triumph.

For city residents, it means access to lower prices, shopping convenience in neighborhoods where there are few big-box stores and loads of tax dollars that have been going to the suburbs.

If Maryland can make a Faustian deal to sprout its own slots dragnet to keep its citizens from funding Delaware's gambling industry, why shouldn't the District be able to accept smiley-faced deals and near rock-bottom wages to snare some tax dollars?

Wal-Mart has often faced opposition because it has hastened the demise of mom-and-pop shops (though I think Fat Face Bar-B-Que will hold up fine on their East Capitol Street location, and there's little else close to Wal-Mart's proposed sites). And labor leaders have long complained about Wal-Mart's wages and benefits.

But Gregory Brown, 40, didn't care about any of that.

"Jobs!" he exclaimed as he paused by the Big Chair, a landmark in Anacostia. "They're going to hire a lot of people. That could help a lot of folks."

That brings us back to the dire situation in Ward 8, where there are no plans for a Wal-Mart.

"Who can afford to shop there?" a 53-year-old housekeeper snapped at me when I asked her if she was happy the megastore is coming to D.C.

With unemployment at almost 30 percent in this part of the city, the 400 construction jobs and 1,200 retail positions promised by Wal-Mart can save a lot of families.


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