Activists wage campaign against Wal-Mart in D.C.

Walmart locations by 2012
By Jonathan O'Connell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 10:15 PM

Neighborhood activists, affordable housing advocates and labor unions are mounting campaigns aimed at thwarting Wal-Mart's plan to open its first stores in D.C.

A handful of residents of Brightwood, an Upper Northwest neighborhood that includes Georgia Avenue, wrote members of the D.C. Council this week to oppose a proposed Wal-Mart on Georgia Avenue. The group has also created a Web site, Ward Four Thrives, to spread the word.

Thursday night, about 20 activists staged a protest at the home of a development executive planning the store, walking in circles on the snow-covered sidewalk chanting "Keep D.C. Wal-Mart free."

As part of a national strategy to serve more urban markets, Wal-Mart announced last month that it planned to open four stores in the District. The company said it would sell fresh food and create 1,200 jobs with competitive wages. Wal-Mart has not signed any leases and has met with residents and city council members to boost support.

The announcement took some critics by surprise. Thomas P. McNutt, president of Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents employees of area Giant and Safeway stores, acknowledged he had been caught flat-footed by the announcement, though the company has been considering D.C. locations for years.

McNutt said he was preparing a forceful response. "We are going to bring the fight to them," he said.

Of the planned stores, in wards 4, 5, 6 and 7, the proposed Georgia Avenue Wal-Mart, in Ward 4, has drawn the most criticism. Unlike other spots, the site at Georgia and Missouri avenues, home of a former car dealership, is adjacent to several small businesses that could suffer.

In a letter Tuesday to members of the D.C. Council, area residents Gerri Adams-Simmons, Michele Baskin and Rebecca Mills said they wanted "Upper Georgia Avenue to thrive, not to become a sea of abandoned buildings with a Wal-Mart at the center."

Thursday night's protesters, most of whom were not from Brightwood, marched at the Woodley Park home of Dick Knapp, a vice president of the development firm Foulger-Pratt, which owns the site.

"We're trying to make the point that just as no one in Woodley Park would stand for a Wal-Mart being built there, we don't want one in our neighborhood either," said Adrian Madsen, who has helped organize a "Wal-Mart Free D.C." campaign and is a member of the group Empower D.C.

Knapp, reached on the phone before the protest, said he would continue to listen to residents at community meetings, not to the activists chanting outside. Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said the protest would not affect the company's plans.

"What we're finding is that the more people get to know us, the more they want a Wal-Mart coming to their neighborhood," he said.

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