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Agreement Between D.C. And Walmart Roils Activists

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There are plans to build six Walmart stores in D.C.
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There are plans to build six Walmart stores in D.C.

Walmart is continuing its aggressive push into D.C.: the big box retailer now says it will open a total of six stores in Washington, two more than originally thought. The fact that the agreements have so far taken place behind closed doors has stoked the danger of anti-Walmart activists.

The District put up little resistance to the behemoth retailer. Unlike other major cities such as New York and Chicago -- where some local leaders have fought tooth-and-nail against Walmart -- D.C. officials are welcoming the retailer with open arms. Most of the stores will be built in underserved neighborhoods, and city leaders say the promise of hundreds of jobs and access to fresh groceries override concerns about Walmart possibly driving down wages or pushing out small businesses.

The push into urban neighborhoods may seem like a complete reversal for the Arkansas-based suburban and rural retailer, but spokesperson Steven Restivo says the company is, in a way, returning to its roots, noting Sam Walmart’s first store in 1962 targeted rural customers because there were so few retail options at the time.

"Flash forward 50 years: that same set of circumstances is playing itself out in large cities, there are large pockets of underserved areas, in some cases food deserts, where people just don’t have choices, we feel our stores can be part of the solution," says Restivo.

The announcement roiled anti-Walmart activists like Dyana Forester, who, after the press conference asked a city official why D.C. didn’t make the retailer sign a community benefits package, as initially discussed.

"The problem is with city leaders," says Forester. "They are not listening to the community. When you make negotiations behind closed doors and you say you are building six Walmarts, and we want to know where the community engagement is."

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray says the city is working on a community benefits agreement with Walmart. Of course, it’s unclear what, if any, leverage the city has now that the deal is done.

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