Sunday, May 8, 2011

Walmart's mailer to DC residents: it's as if they're conducting an ill-fated political campaign

[Cross-posted at The Brightwoodian.]

Walmart is feeling a little wobbly about the chances that the four sites that they've chosen for stores in the District will actually become realities, and here's proof. Yesterday, the mailer you see here was received in mailboxes all across the city. You're looking at the "Ward 4 edition" right now; the version that was sent to parts of the city that don't contain potential Walmart sites received different versions (i.e., the headline on the one I saw that was sent to Ward 3 residents proclaims "Walmart's new DC stores will create 1,200 jobs", rather than the Ward 4-specific language you see above). The piece looks very similar to the kind of literature we're used to receiving from candidates during campaign seasons, complete with a disclaimer notice ("Paid for by Walmart Stores, Inc.").

The "73%" statistic is a reference to a telephone poll that Walmart conducted in the fall of 2010, just before they announced their intentions to move into the District. At community meetings, Walmart representatives have repeatedly referred back to the results of the telephone poll. I was not one of the 800 people surveyed, but I've spoken with a few people who were and I've been told that the questions asked were posed more circuitously than "Do you want a Walmart in your neighborhood, yes or no?" (I have yet to obtain a copy of the actual questions that were asked.)

The mailer's interior again emphasizes that Walmart will create new jobs (though they neglect to mention that they're also likely to take jobs away, as small businesses in the surrounding neighborhoods struggle to survive in Walmart's shadow).

"Access to healthy food" is also emphasized here. But as we've learned from the USDA's recently uploaded online tool, Ward 4 is actually not considered a food desert at all. Richard Layman has also taken note of this. From Layman's post:

WRT Brightwood, considering that there is a below average Safeway at Petworth but the store is going to be upgraded to be roughly comparable to the City Vista store, plus the store at Piney Branch Road, plus the Giant Supermarket at Eastern Ave. and Riggs Road just across the border in Maryland, plus the proposed Safeway at Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue as part of the Cafritz project, plus the Safeway on Connecticut Ave. in Chevy Chase, not to mention the Yes Grocery, I think it would be hard to say that people are underserved...

I found a mapping tool, and started mapping 3 mile retail trade areas from a handful of supermarkets that serve Brightwood: Safeway in Petworth, Safeway at Piney Branch Road, Safeway in SW DC, Safeway in Chevy Chase, the Yes Grocery on Georgia Ave. NW, the PanAm Market at Michigan and Eastern Avenues, the Giant Supermarket on the DC-Maryland border at Eastern Avenue and Riggs Road in Prince George's County. But since so much of the city was covered just with these stores, I decided to start over.

I changed the radius to 1.5 miles from the store location. It doesn't include the proposed Safeway location on Riggs Road NE or the proposed Walmart on Georgia Avenue NW or New York Avenue NE. It doesn't include the PanAm store on 14th Street NW, or independent supermarkets in Mt. Pleasant, nor Florida Market. A lot of stores aren't listed.

I'm not saying that I don't think Ward 4 could use more food options than it currently has, just that Walmart's avowals that they're rescuing us from the bowels of food-desertism are rather baseless.

Of course the mailer mentions nothing about the true folly: that it's becoming more and more apparent that the site, near the intersection of Georgia and Missouri Avenues, can't realistically support the proposed development without having a serious adverse affect on traffic, pedestrian safety, and quality of life in the surrounding residential area.

The best part by far is this tear-off response card (which requires a stamp, as postage will not be paid by the addressee; how...presumptuous). The first item that citizens are asked to check reads: "I would like more information on the efforts to bring Walmart to DC" (emphasis mine). Efforts? I didn't realize Walmart felt that they were fighting such an uphill battle; which I suppose is a good thing, as it means that the groups that have been advocating for smart development at the Curtis Chevrolet site are making a difference. The next item reads: "I would like to sign a petition supporting Walmart coming to DC" (again, emphasis mine). I've no doubt that we'll see Walmart's "community action" reps roving the streets of Ward 4 trying to obtain our signatures in an effort to show our elected officials exactly how much they're wanted/needed. The third item is a call to increase the size of their community action network: "I would like to get involved in the efforts to bring Walmart to DC". Yes, Walmart is attempting to bolster a "grassroots" effort on their own behalf.

I would prefer it if the company would directly address the issues that it knows it's dealing with at its proposed Ward 4 site. In February, we (myself and a small group of neighbors) met with Victor Hoskins, the deputy mayor for economic development. We drew him a map of the proposed site, the surrounding streets and current traffic patterns, the six schools that are within a three-block radius of the site (yes, you read that right, six schools within a three-block radius...and five of them are elementary schools), the proximity of the Fourth District Police Headquarters building, and the proposed location of the loading dock off of Missouri Avenue (and how the 18-wheelers will turn from narrow, two-lanes-in-each-direction Missouri Avenue into the loading dock area). Hoskins sat back, looked at the drawing, and said that it looked like a total mess to him, and that if it's really as bad as the drawing made it look, there was a good chance that the project wouldn't pass a traffic study.

We're seeing now that Hoskins was onto something. Yet Walmart still refuses to acknowledge that. They want this deal to go through that badly.

View Larger Map
The section of Missouri Avenue that will soon be the site of a loading dock entry, if Walmart gets its way.

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