The Unsettled Settlement
The courts have decided that Walmart can’t break a promise without paying the consequences. They promised to build shiny new stores across DC, which was an offer that most city officials, who value tax revenue and pretty buildings to add to their campaign fliers would welcome. The BIG get was the commitment to invest in two neighborhoods that have had years of fits and starts with development — Ivy City and Skyland — the few remaining Black-majority areas in the city. “Yes, let’s make it happen!,” was the response from local officials. But, like with most any developer — where bottom lines trump most everything —there’s a catch. Walmart wasn’t happy with the progressive local moves, such as supporting higher wages and helping employees meet other pesky needs, like healthcare. Those types of resources don’t seem to be part of the hierarchy of needs for the Walmart community-building model (although some of their advertising says otherwise).
The elected pushed legislation for a 15.00/hr, living wage bill in the city — particularly for stores like Walmart. At the end, the minimum wage increase (to 15.00/hr by 2020) was passed, but it’s not just directed towards Wal-Mart & other big box retailers, as originally envisioned. Wal-Mart and the city reached some deals and promises were going to be kept (allegedly). Who won or lost will be debated during the next election cycle.
The promise of jobs and resources in the Skyland & Ivy city neighborhoods was a major win (maybe less so for those who already boycott the company). The city had its agenda and Walmart had its agenda, too. Walmart built three DC stores in neighborhoods already feeling the bright lights of gentrification. The once ignored Ivy City & Skyland neighborhood; which were on the cusp of experiencing their own renaissance; got socked in the gut. Walmart cancelledpromises, by announcing plans to close or not build some stores around the globe — including scrapping the plans for the two DC neighborhoods, which have been fed lies or left at the development alter for years; yes, including the Ivy City and Skyland neighborhoods. Basically, Walmart got what they wanted; to build where they wanted — in places on the rise, already. Then, they used “data” to explain why they couldn’t live up to the promises made to Skyland, Ivy City and other places were looking for the potion that Wal-Mart concocts.
And those who were the recipients of more empty promises were deceived, yet, again. The damage has been done. But, the Skyland neighborhood can put an X in the win column, as Walmart has agreed to a $1.3 million settlement. A pittance to make the issue go away. After legal fees, the settlement doesn’t erase the hurt nor reclaim the lost time for residents of the Skyland area. New developers have new plans inderway, though. And Ivy City already has backing for shiny new things, thanks to the local Douglas Development behemoth (lawsuit avoided?).
What about other places that have felt to Wal-Mart burn, though?
Shop Small — Reap Big
With Amazon as the new standard for goods, a return to the joy of more personal, small, locally owned shopping could be a (not new) concept. Retail you and pain is local, but when you see wider patterns of community harm (Black; Brown; rural; poor), you have to wonder about the real intentionality that caused the hurt. Other communities have witnessed their local stores being closed to make way for the big, all-in-one superstores. Local shops, lost out to shopping malls. Small stores lose to big stores all the time. Many malls are losing out to the open, town square concepts (not new). And, with Amazon as the new standard for goods, a return to the joy of more personal, small, locally owned shopping could be a (again, not not new) concept that returns us to a community-focused mindset. I know I enjoy buying from someone I know, or come to know through a product or service they provide, when I can. I can see it in their eyes.
Many communities, which have their own socio-economic-retail needs, see Walmart as a cure. Then, Walmart cancelled the medication it sold to those communities as their remedy, critically needed to thrive.
Their corporate shenanigans were well documented in the documentary, Wal-Mart, the High Cost of Low Price, so folks should not be surprised.
In DC, two neighborhoods, long overdue for a cure, were left without critical community resources, like fresh groceries, that much longer. That neglect further suppressed the value of those neighborhoods, and surpressed the spirit of the neighbors. Think of it as the opposite effect of what happens when Whole Foods lands in a neighborhood. Well-publicized projects that fail, force overlooked residents out of communities— and smacks down the people’s hope. It also empowers developers to push their own, “you have nothing there, so, what have you got to lose?”, strategies to hungry politicians and needy residents. That is not how communities are empowered. And, it makes oft-neglected residents more suspicious. They become more convinced that progress in their city is not for them, but for a select demographic — the newcomer. In DC, the built stores are operational (for now) and, once again, a corporation trumps community.
Make it like Chester
I attended an event in Chester, PA. Residents are harnessing their collective power to celebrate #ChesterMade resources. Local leaders see their community ills and and have created magic potions like Brothers Restaurant and Juice Bar and Butcher Shop Rehab to cure itself by using assets already in the community chest.
Community activitists, investors and thought leaders from Detroit and Chicago discussed the possibilities and encourage the grassroots movement to make Chester great again. Then, a local representative suggested that Walmart would be a welcome addition — even though community-based businesses are rising up in a more strategic and creative way (thud). That leader, and others who think Walmart is their cure should listen to the story of the residents of Winnsboro, South Carolina, before signing on the dotted line. Watch the documentary from 2005 and ask other places with empty shells where big stores once filled them. Bigger ain’t always better.
When Corps had you lemons — Make Lemonade
The silver lining for the Skyland and Ivy City neighborhoods might be that their survival won’t be built upon the unkept promises of a heart-breaker, like. Wal-Mart. Those promises, even if kept, can be broken and inflict a different type of harm. Take the settlement, Skyland, and make locally-fueled magic happen. Shop with those who invest with and for you.