Walmart backs out of D.C. deal citing costs, and city’s poorest pay the price

Kathleen Lantto |

From The Washington Post:

By Courtland Milloy

It’s not unusual for working-class and low-income people to be targeted for con jobs — high-interest payday loans, scam repair services, products marketed with false claims. But the bait-and-switch that Walmart just pulled off in the District has to rank among the sleaziest ever played.

To get approval to build three stores in wealthier parts of the city, Walmart promised to build two in underserved neighborhoods. So they built the three they wanted. Then, last week, Walmart told city officials that it had made “fresh assumptions” about the profitability of stores slated for black working-class neighborhoods and decided not to build them.

City leaders were understandably upset, having been used as patsies in the Walmart maneuver.

“I’m blood mad,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said at a news conference Friday.

But it was the residents in those underserved neighborhoods who got burned.

To make way for the new, Walmart-anchored Skyland Town Center in Southeast Washington, the city had demolished a tattered but vital neighborhood economy. Variety shops, a laundromat, a beauty shop and fast-food establishments were razed along Good Hope Road near Alabama Avenue. Some apartments were also demolished, and residents were displaced.

“They knocked down all our stores and said they were bringing in something better,” recalled R.M. McKnight, who had been a cook at a now-demolished Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. “They said they were cleaning up the area and going to make everything nice and good.”

Then last week, Walmart told District officials that the economics had changed. Large urban Walmarts were more expensive to build and less profitable to operate. The three D.C. stores had shown disappointing results. The company no longer believed the stores planned for Skyland and Capitol Gateway Marketplace, in Northeast, would generate enough sales.

But the proposed Walmart in Southeast meant much more to the residents than sales. A rendering of the new Skyland center depicted an astounding transformation of a long-neglected D.C. neighborhood. Gone were the mom-and-pop shops with unsightly, roll-down, corrugated-metal security fronts. In their place were 300,000 square feet of retail stores, 1,300 ground-level parking spaces and 475 residential units — some rising three stories atop the Walmart.

A dirty deal.

Read the full article from The Washington Post.