In the Shadow of Walmart

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  August 31, 2011

"Some of the louder voices in this debate don't necessarily represent the majority opinion," Restivo says. "If you ask them, folks are pretty clear on this — they want more job opportunities, and more affordable goods in their area. . . . We are looking at underserved areas of the city, and we are looking at badly served areas around the city."

Opponents aren't buying it. They say that, despite bleak conditions in the recent past, Roxbury is not underserved, especially in the grocery department. There are nearby Stop & Shops in Grove Hall and Jackson Square, as well as a Target in nearby South Bay Plaza. In the immediate Dudley area, Tropical Foods has formally proposed — in collaboration with the Madison Park Development Corporation — a new 20,000-square-foot location on Washington Street, with two additional buildings that would house affordable apartments and mixed-use retail-office space.

"Everybody likes the sound of more alternatives," says Ron Garry Jr., a third-generation Tropical Foods owner. In researching his proposal, Garry says analysts determined that a Walmart would result in 20- to 30-percent decreases in sales for Tropical — a daunting prospect, considering the costs of expansion. He continues: "But what if Walmart was the only choice, and there was no Tropical Foods? People have to decide what they want Dudley Square to become over the next five or so years, and if they want businesses that have been here through the hard times to share in the future."

To hone that message, last month Hizzoner, along with Jackson and about 50 others, convened at the Haley House Café — a testament to Dudley's promising landscape in its own right — to voice their growing concerns. Members of that initial group — all of whom are hostile to Walmart entering the area — have continued to meet since then, organizing around efforts to at least get the company to negotiate its terms of entry.

"They're trying to divide and conquer, and to buy some of our leaders," says Jean-Claude Sanon, an operative with the nonprofit alliance Jobs with Justice, which is organizing Walmart-awareness campaigns in Boston and Somerville. "We know deep down that Walmart wants to come here full-fledged; that's why we're putting forward an educational effort — because some people still think this is good news."


WALMART IN CHICAGO

Those who stand against Walmart would seem to have little reason to trust the company's good intentions. Among the chain's proven offenses: extensive violations of child-labor laws at more than 100 stores; failure to provide health insurance for more than half of its million-plus US workers; and even misdeeds here in Massachusetts. In 2009, the company paid the biggest settlement in commonwealth history — $40 million to about 87,000 plaintiffs — for denying workers meal breaks and overtime, and for manipulating timecards.

Yet while notable sources like the Economic Policy Institute have found that incoming Walmarts result in net employment losses — and decimate sales at competing pharmacies, general stores, and supermarkets — other reports fall in favor of the mighty retailer. In 2005, MIT professor Jerry Hausman estimated that low-income consumers benefit greatly from Walmart, whether they shop there or not (since the company's discounts force competitors to lower prices). Hausman's work countered findings from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has determined that Walmarts do not ultimately benefit communities.

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