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Walmart In Boston? Critics Say It Could Harm Local Businesses, Jobs

(code poet/Flickr)

(code poet/Flickr)

BOSTON — Walmart, one of the world’s largest retailers, says it is looking to open a store in Boston. The company has hired a local commercial real estate firm to scout possible locations and has engaged a local public relations firm to help sell the idea.

The Walmart plan is causing concern among some local businesses and public officials. A community meeting about Walmart will be held in Dudley Square Thursday night.

There’s speculation that one of the locations for a Walmart store is on Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury.

Walmart Vs. Local Businesses

The nearby Dudley Square district is home to small, locally based businesses, among them Tropical Foods on Washington Street, directly across from the vacant lot on Melnea Cass Boulevard. The store was founded more than three decades ago by an immigrant from Cuba. Now a third generation of his family is running Tropical Foods. Ronn Garry Jr. and his brother bought it from their father five years ago.

“My grandfather grew the business from just 2,000 square feet, started the business, my father grew it into its current size, and my brother and I want to grow it as well,” Garry said.

In July, the Garry brothers were among four groups submitting proposals to the Boston Redevelopment Authority for city-owned parcels of land in this area.

“Walmart is a huge corporation, what they do is they come into a community and all the mom and pop stores disappear eventually, and the money goes to Arkansas.”
– Mayor Thomas Menino

“We wanted to build this new store, and it would be more than twice the size of the existing store, that’s where (the) Walmart situation, you know, presents a little bit of a wrinkle.”

Walmart has not submitted a proposal for the BRA properties, but admits that it is looking into several possible locations in the city.

That has caught Garry off-guard.

“For years and years, everyone said, ‘You’ll never see Walmart in the city, there’s not enough room.’ And then somewhere along the line Walmart realized that they had saturated the suburbs and they came up with this new concept called the Walmart neighborhood store, which is essentially a grocery store, and now they’re really targeting the cities,” Garry said.

Walmart currently has 47 stores and two Sam’s Clubs in Massachusetts. Boston is the latest big city it’s targeting.

“We have four stores in Philly, we have four stores planned for Washington, D.C., we have two stores in Chicago with nine more on the way,” said Steve Restivo, Walmart’s senior director of community affairs.

So far the retailer has gotten a mostly cool reception from top officials in Boston, starting with Mayor Thomas Menino.

“Walmart is a huge corporation, what they do is they come into a community and all the mom and pop stores disappear eventually, and the money goes to Arkansas,” Menino said. “I want the money to stay here with the mom and pop stores, put local people to work.”

But Restivo seems unaware of Menino’s opinion.

“Have you met with the mayor directly, and have you met with any of the city councilors?” I asked Restivo.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“You met with Mayor Menino?”

“Yeah.”

“And his response to you was?”

“I don’t know that there was a specific response. It was a conversation,” Restivo said. “We continue to keep his office updated on our progress in the city, just like we would with any mayor in any city across the country.”

“He seems to be against having one in the city,” I tell Restivo.

“OK. I, I, ah, I don’t know,” Restivo responded.

Walmart’s local public relations consultant later admitted that Restivo had not talked directly with the mayor.

All this is going on as the city works on a plan to revitalize Dudley Square. The Menino administration has promised to anchor the district by relocating Boston Public School headquarters there.

“Almost every building was either partially or totally vacant, and we’ve gotten all of them open and a lot of them renovated,” said Joyce Stanley, the executive director of Dudley Square’s main streets.

“Now we need to build a better mix of businesses in a bad economy. so to have a large major store come here, that’s going to undermine that whole process.”

Stanley wants to preserve the diversity of the neighborhood, and she wants to find a way to grow longtime area businesses such as Tropical Foods.

Garry says the benefits go beyond his store.

“When you have an independent local supermarket, it’s also where to you buy your goods. We spent $2.4 million a year with local meat vendors, produce vendors, and Walmart buys nationally,” Garry said. “They’re buying from Arkansas or direct from California, so it’s not just the jobs at Tropical Foods or the economic impact of Tropical Foods, but it’s where our dollars are being spent and where those dollars are being recycled within the community, at these local vendors as well.”

To Many Consumers, Cheaper Is Better

But that’s not what many Tropical Food customers are thinking about when they hear that Walmart may be coming to the area.

Customers, such as 78-year-old Elfreda Wright, who moved here from Jamaica two years ago: “I hope I will live to see it come,” she said, laughing.

“I love Walmart. They should bring a Walmart here in this area, because it’s, it’s cheaper,” said Veronca Boyd, who comes to Tropical Foods from the South End.

But, “There is a cost to low cost, and I think people need to know that,” said City Councilor Tito Jackson.

“Walmart would not be a good fit in Roxbury and in the Melnea Cass area. It is a very sensitive business district, with a lot of small businesses, and this organization has a history of putting out of business many of our small businesses,” Jackson said.

Restivo responded, saying, “I think it’s a nice talking point. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of statistics and facts to support that. What we find more often is the case that the opposite is true — our stores actually serve as magnets for growth and development.”

Restivo said Walmart looks forward to proving that “in and around Boston.” However, the retailer doesn’t plan to send a representative to Thursday night’s community meeting.

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  • Bill

    We need businesses that want to do more than suck as many dollars as they can out of Boston.

  • X-Ray

    It Walmart is a more efficient supplier, shouldn’t they be given a chance? Why are “local” stores better if they charge higher prices and have less variety? It seems there is a bias at work here.

    • Jessica

      Local stores are better for a variety of reasons: they support the local economy, as Garry mentions in this story; they are better for the environment because they are not relying on long-haul trucks from not only other parts of the country, but other parts of the world; relying on the local economy also has security implications for the country as a whole because it allows us to be less dependent on other nations for both food and fuel; and local businesses are more concerned with the community around them–they are a part of it and not only want to, but must succeed here. They do not have a hundred other stores to off-set any losses. Yea to Mayor Menino for wanting to invest in Boston and not in Walmart!

      • X-Ray

        What evidence is there for any of your assertions, such as local sourcing (most, except some foods are manufactured nationally), less loing haul, security, less pollution, etc. ? This is just blue sky speculation, there is not support for this view. As I said, just a biased view. 

        • http://somervillelocalfirst.org/ Somerville Local First

          X-Ray, you’re wrong about the lack of data, as is their spokesperson.  There are actually REAMS of data out there that show the dramatically different affect locally owned and independent businesses have on our communities and local economies.  These are scientifically rigorous studies performed by independent organizations, unlike any studies/data that Walmart will provide, which are typically done through their funding seeking their results.

          Here are some links:

          http://www.newrules.org/retail/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail

          http://www.somervillelocalfirst.org/the-local-first-movement/local-first-economics/

          • X-Ray

            Both links were local organizartions aimed at killing Walmarts from being established; not really reliable or unbiased sources.  They are as likely to issue a reliable report as the Democrats reporting on the Tea Party.

          • Munjoy

            The studies listed in the first link are done by a range of economists and other academics and many are published in reputable journals.  So these are unbiased, reliable sources.

          • X-Ray

            Read the objectives and aims on the home pages of the referenced web sites and then tell me with a straight face that their data are unbiased and objective.

      • Suttonstreet-wbur

        The local stores also tend to be more expensive — so while it may be true that “keeping it local” benefits the business owner, it is harder to argue that it benefits the community as a whole. Indeed, inner city mom and pop stores are notorious for high prices, and one of the features of urban poverty is that in many neighborhoods, poor folk do not have economic alternatives to the local stores.

        And I never understood the idea that “buying local” is good for us. It surely works if you are the only one doing it — but it doesn’t work if the whole world goes “local”, since they are not going to be buying the stuff you make either. I lived in Japan where you were basically forced to buy rice “local” — and it was 7x the world market price.

        I do like the idea of local vibrant community etc, but I think realistically we should be talking about restaurants, cafes, specialty stores, etc — not the places where you buy basic necessities of life, for which there is a lot to be said for a large, efficient and inexpensive means of distribution.

  • Lee

    Good Luck to The Great City of Boston in trying to Stop Walmart. It’s going to be a huge, long fight. There’s only a few towns that have been able to pull that one off. Westford is one of them. It won’t happen without total Grass Roots support.

  • Wocket

    Seeing as Wal Mart did not even bid on the city-owed lots in question, this is a
    lot of whole lot of nothing. This is more a press release for Tropical Foods than anything else.
    As far as a fit, it sells food. It will fill a vacant lot or building.
    It will pay taxes to the city. It will maintain the area around its
    store. It will contribute to street life and foot traffic, making a
    safer neighborhood. Moreover, how are 99 cent City or Walgreens, or the
    Law offices of Donald E. Green a good fit?

  • T. Ferguson

    Walmart’s “senior director of community affairs”
    lied about having a conversation with Mayor Menino when no such
    discussion occurred.  That alone speaks volumes about WalMart’s business practices and Steve Restivo’s credibility.

  • Mitch

    Just as in every city Walmart enters, Boston too will lose many of the small shops that make each neighborhood so distincly vibrant - certainly undermining their character.  There’s no question that this will bring down property prices and reduce Boston’s tax base.

  • Lee58

    As far as “local stores are more expensive”,  you need to look at the bigger picture. The Federal Government subsidizes the huge farming conglomerates, which makes it profitable for California to grow and Fedex food to the East Coast. There’s no way Mom and Pop can compete against that. This is one point that I agree on with the Republicans. Stop Corporate Welfare and Corporate Entitlements! Give Mom and Pop a level playing field

  • Anonymous

    Flip off  Walmart ! Another company that makes alot of money& exploits people!!! Minimal health benefits.Favors men in management ,cheap goods made by exploited workers in China. At what cost are we buying this cheap s##t ??? How about less stuff better quality.. Now that’s a concept! SHOP LOCAL buy less..

  • Joan

    Yes, keep Wal-Mart out as it changes the mix in the neighborhoods and forces out
    Mom and Pop stores as the mayor said.  I wish the Mayor would also consider more  
    local food coops. .. Instead of bringing in pricy food stores like Whole Foods into
    the city….

    New Hampshire & Vermont has quite of few of such stores andthey are a  great way to buy
    fresh and local produce , poultry, and meat products…The Major & Dolores Handy should
    visit the Food Coop in Hanover New Hampshire which just celebrated its 75 th anniversary
    and it is doing a thriving business. 

    People just love their food coops in New Hampshire &Vermont. They are a win/win situation
    for local growers and local consumers….Joan
    http://strongertogether.coop/food-community/hanover-co-op-food-store/

    Celebrating 75 years of service, Hanover , Food Coop , New Hampshire.
    http://www.coopfoodstore.coop/about/history

  • Thepersonaltiff

    Can we get Occupy Boston to get behind an Anti-Walmart campaign. This has to be stopped. 

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