Steven Pearlstein's Sept. 1 Business column about Wal-Mart's decision not to build a store in the Brentwood neighborhood of the District repeated oft-made and somewhat dated criticisms about Wal-Mart's size, market strategy and employment issues.

The more high-end outlets undoubtedly are basking in today's economy, serving customers who are doing well. But residents in this area and around the country also seek more cost-effective alternatives for clothing, groceries, home furnishings and school supplies, particularly in an economy that has experienced significant job losses and the dislocation that commonly accompanies structural economic change. The Washington market is underserved for discount merchandise.

Yes, there have been complaints about Wal-Mart's employment practices. We don't run away from these matters; we commit ourselves to constantly improving.

For the record, our employees on average earn 90 percent above the federal minimum wage -- our average wage is $10.18 an hour in the Washington-Baltimore area -- and often more than the employees of our direct competitors. Our associates also receive unlim- ited health care coverage, profit-sharing, retirement benefits, 401(k) plans and discounted stock options.

Wal-Mart is committed to entering markets such as Washington, to serving and employing Washingtonians, and to helping resolve the problems that stand in the way.

MIA T. MASTEN

Regional Community Affairs Manager

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Washington