Wal-Mart Goes to Washington -- Maybe


Just a few days after Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) appears to have won over skeptics in the Windy City of Chicago, the retailer has its sights set on another untapped metropolitan area: Washington, D.C. According to The Washington Post, the nation's capital and the world's largest retailer are reportedly close to a deal that would bring the first Wal-Mart to the District.

Apparently, Wal-Mart may be weighing the possibility of opening a location on New York Avenue NE (near the intersection of Bladensburg Road) and could sign a lease by this fall. A family-run taxi company currently owns more than 11 acres surrounding this intersection and a prior deal for a housing and retail complex recently fell through. The location could provide Wal-Mart with ample room for a large store and a sizable parking lot, right in the middle of the city.

A company spokesman neither confirmed nor denied the speculation, noting, "Wal-Mart does not have any new projects to announce in [D.C.] but we continue to evaluate opportunities that would allow us to create jobs and provide affordable groceries to D.C. residents." So ... if there isn't any D.C. development planned, how are residents supposed to get those cheap groceries? It's a puzzle. There are Wal-Marts located in the D.C. suburbs in Virginia and Maryland, but a District-based location would keep sales taxes local and save travel time for District residents.

About 19% of D.C. Residents Live Below the Poverty Line

Unemployment in the D.C. region is less scary than that in Chicago, which means Wal-Mart won't have the job-creation card to play with quite as much urgency. What D.C. does have, however, (despite a respectable per-capita income), is a shocking economic disparity. In 2009, 18.9% of District residents were living below the poverty line, up from 16.9% the previous year. Access to inexpensive necessities like groceries, diapers and housewares will be a big selling point as WMT tries to establish a foothold.

Several days ago, Chicago's City Council approved a 145,000 square-foot Wal-Mart store that will open in the Pullman Park neighborhood. This will likely be the tip of the falling-prices iceberg, as Wal-Mart has been negotiating a starting wage for its employees that would make it possible to open as many as 21 Chicago stores.