No sooner had Wal-Mart said it would put a grocery store north of downtown Los Angeles than the usual critics of the big retailer quickly made their usual criticisms.
The grocery near Chinatown will rough up a fragile neighborhood, they said. It will devastate small businesses nearby, especially Asian groceries. The store “will continue Wal-Mart’s track record of perpetuating poverty jobs in low-income communities in Los Angeles,” wrote Roxana Tynan, the new executive director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, in an article posted on that pro-union organization’s website.
Gee. I never figured one little grocery, smaller than a typical new Whole Foods store, could do all that devastation to Los Angeles, which, after all, is a pretty big city. I mean, have those nefarious schemers at Wal-Mart really figured how to put all surrounding grocers into the checkout line at bankruptcy court?
Wait a minute. I’ve been to a Wal-Mart grocery. It was called Neighborhood Market, and granted, it’s been 10 years or so since I was there, and it was in another state. But I clearly remember a compact store that was clean and bright. It had vegetables and frozen meals and canned food. It had toothpaste and Meow Mix.
In other words, it was unsurprising. What it lacked in pizzazz, it made up for in banal ordinariness. Hard to imagine how it could be a wanton killer of all things retail.
Actually, I do remember being surprised at the checkout line. The bill was smaller than I expected. In fact, it was low enough to make me return a time or two.
But I also recall that the beer selection was paltry. That put me off. I moved on to a different store.
Let’s stop and think about the flap over this one little store. Downtown Los Angeles has an estimated 46,000 residents and a single standard grocery, a Ralphs. Isn’t there room for one more? For that matter, maybe three or four more?
And if the new Neighborhood Market gets going, a Wal-Mart spokesman said it’ll offer low prices. That means downtown residents – as well as those in Chinatown, and even such places as Boyle Heights and Echo Park – may not have to drive out to the suburbs to shop at a new grocery with affordable prices. Why do the critics of Wal-Mart want to deprive so many folks of buying power?
The argument that the store will hurt Chinatown is silly on its face. The store is going in a long-vacant space. And assuming the new store attracts shoppers, the nearby stores will see more foot traffic. Since the Neighborhood Market won’t sell ethnic food, that means the existing Asian stores are likely to see more business, not less.
As for the charge by LAANE’s executive director that the new store will offer “poverty jobs,” consider that Wal-Mart said its average wage in California for nonmanagers is $12.69 an hour. But right now, LAANE is fighting to make big hotels in Long Beach pay their workers a “living wage.” How much is that? According to LAANE, it’s $13 an hour.
So let’s get this right. The difference between a living wage and a poverty wage is 31 cents an hour? Maybe we should send LAANE a new calculator.
Look, a new grocery of any kind would be an improvement for downtown and Chinatown. And a Neighborhood Market store would not devastate the neighborhood or kill off other groceries.
Unless it has improved its beer selection, it’s not even that great a store.