“Once they get their foothold in D.C. we can never go back,” said Gary Cha, owner of Yes! Organic Market, which has seven stores, all located in the District of Columbia. “Washington is a very small city to have four Walmarts… Having just one Walmart can have a devastating effect. I can’t imagine the lawmakers, the councilmembers, the politicians letting four Walmarts come to D.C.”
The Washington Post noted, “Last fall, Wal-Mart announced initial plans to open stores in Wards 4, 5, 6 and 7, and it has followed with a carefully orchestrated campaign to win support and disarm critics. It says that its stores would create 1,200 retail jobs… and would generate an estimated $10 million annually in tax revenue for the city.”
Cha challenges Walmart’s claims: “For every job that they bring, one-and-a-half to two jobs are lost, so it’s not a net gain of jobs.” A joint study by Hunter College and Bill de Blasio, the New York City Public Advocate, reached the same conclusion: “Wal-Mart is trying to take advantage of the current economic downturn by promising an immediate infusion of jobs and investment dollars in city neighborhoods that have been hit hard by the recession. Considering the body of independent research that clearly demonstrates Wal-Mart’s negative long-term impacts on local economies, it would be shortsighted to allow this destructive retail monopolist to enter the New York City market via the Trojan Horse of ‘job creation.'”
Regarding the estimated tax revenue D.C. would reap from Walmart’s arrival, Cha said, “[While] they’re bringing [in] about $10 million a year [in] sales tax… if the sales mostly come from existing business, that’s not a new tax that they’re generating, it’s just simply shifting from what small business owners [are already] paying.”
In his store on Georgia Avenue, the movie “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price” plays continuously. It’s part of Cha’s effort to help educate the community. “A lot of people have no idea what Walmart does… I didn’t know that much about Walmart until I started doing research and it’s very scary… I’m concerned not just for my stores, but [for] a lot of other people because this is where I’ve been doing business for thirty years. This is my home.”
Much of D.C.’s vibrant nonprofit community has remained silent on Walmart’s attempt to enter the District. The Washington Post noted, “Wal-Mart’s charitable foundation has provided grants and donations to D.C. nonprofit organizations in recent years, including more than $2 million in fiscal 2010.” Additionally, Walmart’s charitable foundation pledged $25 million for last year’s controversial D.C. teachers’ contract. Initially the contract stipulated that if then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee left town, so could the money.
Press coverage of Walmart’s effort has ranged from non-confrontational to nonexistent. Cha pointed out that, on average, Walmart spends more than $6.5 million a day on advertising. Washington City Paper noted on Feb. 14, “Last week, Wal-Mart execs met with writers and editors of the Washington Post. This week the editorial board writes an editorial how Wal-Mart would be a welcome addition to the District (which follows a similar-themed column from [Washington Post columnist] Robert McCartney). Put yourself in for a raise, Wal-Mart press guy!” The Post’s pro-Walmart editorial stated, “Unsubstantiated criticism should not be allowed to derail a private investment that, on balance, appears to be to the advantage of the District and its residents.”
“Being a business owner in D.C. since 1982, this is where I make a living, ” said Cha. “I care about where I do business and I hate to see not just my business, but other small businesses suffer because of allowing Walmart to come in [to D.C. and do] what they’ve done elsewhere.”