Walmart Friend or Foe?

Brent Musson's position on the Walmart Neighborhood Market coming to Lincoln and Figueroa.

Walmart has leased the old grocery store at the South-East corner of Lincoln and Figueroa, that much we know.  Over the years, Walmart’s image has taken a beating, primarily because of their sometimes devastating effect on the competition and their non-union labor strategy.  Some people think of Walmart as the enemy to small business and a destructive force in the US economy—an example of corporate greed in its purest form.  This view is not, however, universal; in fact, almost 20 million people shop at Walmart every day;[i] and, Walmart’s 2.2 million employees[ii] (more than 1% of the US population and three times the size of the US military) show up every day to earn their living in Walmart stores, logistics locations and offices. 

When I was growing up in West Altadena, I only heard stories of how 241 Lincoln used to be a brand new “Shopping Bag” grocery store—it had long since been closed, followed by a Marketbasket, and no new store has shown any serious interest in decades.  It's no surprise why…  The rest of the ¼ mile strip included 4 liquor stores, a bar and a chop shop with a few other non-descript shops in between.  Understandably, it wasn’t the type of place most operators would want to plant their flag.  The only major business to open their doors was a U-Haul self-storage, until Lincoln Crossing came online as part of the County redevelopment zone.

Lincoln Crossing supplanted half of our liquor stores, the bar and the chop shop; but unfortunately, budget cuts killed the West Altadena Project Area along with redevelopment zones managed by redevelopment agencies across the State,[iii] after only the first phase of three that were planned.  Since joining the Altadena Land Use Committee, two years ago, I have been working with my fellow Town Council members, and other active community members, to find new strategies for finishing the redevelopment of the Lincoln corridor; but, between the blight and the County’s strict parking requirements, it has been difficult, approaching impossible, to generate interest in opening new business in West Altadena.

When Councilman Shackelford, Councilwoman Elect Broadous and I met with Walmart for the first time, two weeks ago, I went into the meeting with a measure of resistance to the idea of a Walmart in my neighborhood (even though it’s to be a Walmart Neighborhood Market which is their version of a grocery store,) but I also carried a measure of relief: relief that somebody (anybody) was finally willing to renovate and occupy the carcass of a building that has plagued our neighborhood for most of my adult life.

Walmart’s presentation included all of the talking points one would expect from a well-planned public relations effort: they talked about jobs; the newly renovated building; we were told that Altadena is a food desert, though I couldn’t verify that on the USDA food desert map[iv]; we learned some of Walmart’s positive labor statistics, including average associate pay of $12+/hour; and, we learned all about the company’s philanthropy, both local and global.  The two representatives were very cordial and very professional.  They’ve been forthcoming about Walmart’s plans and have been able to answer every question we threw at them, either on the spot or after asking someone else in their organization.  I would have been impressed, but I’ve seen enough professional presentations to know what to expect; so, I try to be as practical as possible and simply look for opportunities to advocate for my community.

Let’s look at three primary facts and then I’ll explain where I went from there…

  1. The building on 2410 Lincoln Ave. has been vacant for most of the past 20 years.  All the major grocery chains have been offered the building and all have declined, leaving the building in a dilapidated state for years on end.   James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s 1982 Broken Windows Theory states: “An ordered and clean environment – one which is maintained – sends the signal that the area is monitored and that criminal behavior will not be tolerated. Conversely, a disordered environment – one which is not maintained (broken windows, graffiti, excessive litter) – sends the signal that the area is not monitored and that one can engage in criminal behavior with little risk of detection.”
  2. Walmart is coming to 241 Lincoln—this is not a question for debate and no approvals need be sought from Altadena’s Land Use Committee nor Town Council.  No Conditional Use Permit (CUP) is required from LA County Planning, only standard building permits for the renovation (which have already been granted by the County.) 
  3. Walmart has established an outreach budget and assembled an advance team to introduce their store into our community.  This advance team will determine how best to allocate this outreach budget to make for a smooth entrance.

As a resident of West Altadena since 1972 and a West Altadena homeowner since 2000, I’m glad to see that our blighted corner is finally being developed; this, in spite of the fact that Governor Brown dissolved California’s redevelopment agencies roughly six months ago.  If I have any problem with Walmart in particular, I don’t see the point in protesting something that’s already been decided.  So, there’s only one thing left to consider: where is Walmart going to focus their outreach efforts?

So far, Walmart has agreed to set up a Job Training Center months before the store opens, to start preparing local jobseekers and to help them be more competitive, come interview time.  I believe this will significantly increase the probability of local residents (as opposed to residents of surrounding cities) filling the 60+ jobs that will be created by this store.  I’ve never seen another business in Altadena offer to prepare jobseekers to be interviewed.  In terms of lasting value, even if a local jobseeker isn’t hired by Walmart Neighborhood Market, they will have learned the valuable skills that make them more marketable to other Altadena businesses as well as employers in outside of Altadena. 

John Smith has graciously offered Neighbors Empowering Youth (NEY) as the Job Training Center location.  NEY provides FREE computers in the form of technology grants[v], free job re-training through their partnership with I Choose to be Excellent[vi] (ic2be,) a free robotics club, for kids, that competes regional and national at FIRST[vii] competitions, and much more.  The lasting value here: Walmart’s use of NEY’s facilities and ic2be’s programs will draw attention to the many free community resources they offer.  Essentially, Walmart will be introducing many members of our communities to free job training, and technology services, right under their noses.

Walmart will give a percentage of sales from this store to local programs and the store manager will be required to be actively involved in local issues.  As long as we hold them to their commitments, Walmart Neighborhood Market will be a responsible and active business neighbor.

So what about the small businesses that feel so threatened by competition from the big corporation?  Business environments change rapidly.  More and more consumers are buying online and the web browser has become the new store window.  Small businesses have the advantage of being nimble while large corporations have the advantage of deeper pockets and greater reach.  Unfortunately some small businesses desperately hold onto the “good old days” and resist change, fully surrendering their advantage (being nimble and able to change.)  Their resistance to adapting with market shifts is far more likely to put them out of business than Walmart.  All Walmart locations, even grocery stores like the one opening early next year in my community, are drop-shop locations, which means customers can order from the website and pick up at the store without any shipping cost.  Some local retailers believe this makes the new grocery store a direct competitor for the manufactured goods they sell, and they’re absolutely right; but so is Walmart.com, Target.com, Amazon.com, Ebay.com and a long, long list of other dot-coms that have been drop shipping to our front doors, via UPS and FedEx since the ‘90s.  If any business owners would like to hear my recommendations on how to capitalize on the pending changes in West Altadena, please contact me directly using the contact page on BrentMusson.com, on Facebook.com/BDMusson or on Twitter.com at (@Bmusson.)  

There is no question in my mind that the renovation and occupation of a blighted building, the creation of over 60 jobs, the establishment of a free local job center, free publicity for some of our local charities and ongoing philanthropy and engagement from the local store manager will be a positive addition to our area.


[i] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/statement-on-poll-showing-americans-believe-wal-mart-is-a-good-place-to-shop-55560787.html

[ii] http://investors.walmartstores.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=112761&p=irol-irhome

[iii] http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/29/local/la-me-redevelopment-20111230

[iv] http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-desert-locator/go-to-the-locator.aspx

[v] http://ic2be.org/free-pc/

[vi] www.ic2be.org

[vii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1QyM9WTF18

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Steve Lamb July 17, 2012 at 05:15 PM
If Walmart is not going to be subject to the same conditions as Super King, will the Councilmembers in all fairness and decency, have those conditions removed from Super King?
Alison Johnson July 17, 2012 at 05:15 PM
re: your question about the property owner's responsibility, it's a tough call. Owners of commercial property have the same rights (within zoning restrictions and legal limits) that owners of private property do: the right to buy and sell and rent/lease to whomever they choose. If the community starts to make rules about who a commercial owner can lease to, the community can also impose controls on other private owners... I don't think our independent Altadena nature would tolerate that! And in the same vein, I completely respect your decision to out-source your grocery shopping (though I do enjoy dropping in to Super King and love going to Webster's Pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions, have great conversation, and get little treats from time to time! I recommend both.)
Gary Edwards July 17, 2012 at 05:17 PM
91001 ain't the place it used to be ("the end of altadena as we once knew it"). why wouldn't you support local biz? love how people on these threads keep wishing for stuff, pointing out what we should have in town. time for those people to start the business they want to see in town. stop the hoping & wishing for others to do it.
Gary Edwards July 17, 2012 at 05:20 PM
why on earth would superking mgr think wmart was going up the street? noone else thought this.
Alison Johnson July 17, 2012 at 05:28 PM
As a former small-business owner in Altadena, I too hired untrained staff and had to train them up to do the job. One worked part-time, the other worked full-time. I will attest that their salary also did not allow them to buy a house in the Altadena area (and probably not in Los Angeles County). Is this to be a mandate for all employers? American entrepreneurship and free-market is tolerated only to a certain extent; after that, we as a culture become very socialist, and are disgruntled unless a rich person or large business chooses to publicly prove their moral standing through business and fiscal transparency and evidence of good works toward the less fortunate. The dividing line of where/when this happens is not at all clear. PLEASE note that I am not taking a position on this (yet), but making a sociological observation.
Steve Lamb July 17, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Gary- I cant answer that question. its sort of like 'Why don't people who have lived in Altadena for two decades know there is an Altadena Town Council?" Or "Why don't people know Christmas Tree Lane is a all volunteer community organization?" "Why do they think CTLA workers all get paid?"or 'Why dont people know that altadena is not part of Pasadena and that mayor Bogaard is not their mayor?" Either they never found out, for whatever reason (say they don't read the PATCH or the PSN) or someone who may or may not have meant to told them something taht mislead them.
Angela Odom July 17, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Interestingly enough, I really thought a Walmart market, Walmart Express or a CityTarget would open here in Altadena, I just didn't know where. At first I thought Walmart was the secret negotiator at Lincoln and Altadena Drive. I did not expect a much needed gas station there because of the fault line right behind that location but I did have hopes of seeing a big purse to take over that building. As it turned out, Walmart took the abandoned eyesore at Fig and Lincoln. Also, with Joon's Dollar Store doing so well up on Fair Oaks, I expect to see another Dollar store show up around here somewhere. I still think we may see a CityTarget, a CVS or Walgreens in the area now that Walmart has found a place for itself. Superking may soon up the ante at their store soon (Like Ralphs, Vons and Smart & Final did) but it will depend on how they rebound from the hefty (approximately $527,000) settlement payout they are now faced with from a lawsuit that came down as a result of acts committed at their OC store -- misrepresenting meats as Halal when they were not Halal. That could hurt them. We'll see how it all shakes out. I also expect rents to raise (as landlords are wont to do) when they consider being able to get more money for their buildings. We'll see.
Steve Lamb July 17, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Actually that fault line is one of the most dangerous in the state. The way it intersects with others it is believed sets of chain reaction quakes. It only does this every 30,000 years or so......
Steve Lamb July 17, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Why is the computerized rendering for the Chinatown walmart being used for this article?
Steve Lamb July 17, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Angela- Well Ralphs have already informed the manager of that store that if Walmart opens there the store will be closed. So thats an empty ofr an empty, except if history is any guide, taht may well turn into a superstore. and that abandoned eyesore on lincoln was abandoned when the landlord bought it and evicted the tenants. ten he tore the roof off the building. Oddly enough taht seems to be a pattern with him, if you look at what he did to his shopping center in LaVegas where he removed long term tenants, made no repairs and expanded a walmart neighborhood market into a superstore......
Steve Lamb July 17, 2012 at 07:40 PM
But lest only discuss what the Walmart corporate PR people tell us is true, in spite of the fact that we keep catching them in untruths. "We have no plans at this time to open a store on Lincoln. We are considering it and at early stages of negotiation" means in reality "Our contractors are working on site." "We have no plans at this point to sell liquor at that location." Means "We will apply for our permits in a year" "We are not negotiating ofr a second site in Altadena" means we are negotiating for a second site in Altadena, we are advertising on our website for bids from contractors at that location, but we say its in Pasadena on the web site so its hard for Altadenans to find it." 'We pay an average of $12.79 an hour." I have no idea what that means because I can only locate a single Walmart associate who is paid more than $10.88 an hour. For $12.79 to be an average there should be some at or above that. I've recently met well over 100 and interviewed over 50 as to their wages. You would yhink somewhere there would be a $14 something an hour walmart employee I'd run into.... "We are only in early negotiations on the Lake Avenue site" means "We are taking bids from Contractors for work on the lake Acve. site."
Steve Lamb July 17, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Not a very good record so far.....
Angela Odom July 17, 2012 at 08:40 PM
There's a study that just came out that states traditional grocery stores will not fair well going forward. The Millennials (those who are in their 20s and 30s) buy less than 40 percent of their food at the traditional grocery store. They prefer alternative stores like Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Co-Ops and Farmers' Markets. The study entitled "Trouble in Aisle Five" says Millenials are 23% less likely to value food brands in their purchasing decision and 18% less likely to shop at traditional grocers. Funny, Vons is called the "Baby Boomers" store and yeah, I like Vons better. You can read more on the study here : http://www.alixpartners.com/en/MediaCenter/PressReleaseArchive/tabid/821/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/258/Rise-of-the-Millennials-and-Aging-of-the-Boomer-Generation-Will-Mean-Trouble-in-Aisle-5-for-Established-Food-Brands-and-Traditional-Grocery-Stores.aspx . Basically, all of these retailers are looking for ways to reinvent themselves and I think Ralphs is seeing the handwriting on the wall, along with Albertsons. Now back to the guy that owns that building actually having an in with Walmart via his Vegas location. No wonder. That explains a lot. Good to know that one.
Theresa Snedden July 17, 2012 at 09:01 PM
I have been disenfranchised and violated by so called town council representatives for my census tract, who had pledged to serve their census tract citizens; and who have put their own agenda before their constituents. Walmart made their “half-truths” presentation to whom only? In the first paragraph of this article Musson, states that about 20 million people shop at Walmart.. sure, after having closing down small and franchise businesses. He also states that Walmart has 2.2 million employees, but does he also say that about 70% of those employees turn over after a year, and that 75% of those who stay are eligible to receive welfare and food stamps due to extremely low wages, which are not a living wage. This information is public information; from studies and government records.
Theresa Snedden July 17, 2012 at 09:09 PM
The last grocery store was there over fifty years ago. The American Veterans Thrift Store was there for many years until the roof caved in during a rainstorm. They were evicted by the owners and the building left in disrepair, which helped to escalate the blighted condition in the area. I live one block from this corner, and have spoken to many of my neighbors and none of us were contacted by flyers, mail, council representative, or phone call. Many of us do not want this behemoth in our community. My property value will decline, as it has for many of the communities it comes into, Now to make matters worse it is trying to open a second store on North Lake; I guess so they can live up to their reputation, of opening one store, then opening up a second Walmart (close to the first) close down the neighboring store by lowering prices, get that land to enlarge their second store and then close down the first one they opened?
rebel mamma July 19, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Exactly and I am disappointed that Musson and other council members have been "taken" by Walmart's BS claims. For those 60 jobs gained we will lose 24 more, for that 1 vacant building we will be soon looking at dozens more. I do not believe that a corrupt corporation that engages over and over again in immoral business practices would be good for any community. Shame on you Brent for selling out to Walmart's BS claims.
Lisa Maiorana July 19, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Thank God someone that makes sense - thank you so much for doing this research and sharing with us the TRUTH! Finally!
Lisa Hastings July 19, 2012 at 02:40 AM
It sure is odd that individual members of the ATC are promoting Walmart. You would never see members of our state legislature promoting any specific corporation or company, at least not openly.
pusddad July 19, 2012 at 02:58 AM
what makes you think your property is worth more one block from blight than one block from a new grocery store?
Theresa Snedden July 19, 2012 at 04:18 AM
No, but an employer that pays a living wage and hires more than part time unskilled token community membersfor only a few months, cut hours and brings in full time employees form other areas. and then chooses how they will do "their token outreach" while they pillage the community. You really need to see Walmart track record.
Brent Musson July 19, 2012 at 06:14 PM
By your comments, I'm not sure you fully understand my position. If you are interested in a serious dialog, here are 4 simple questions that I have yet to hear answers to... http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement
Brent Musson July 19, 2012 at 06:26 PM
I have made special effort to seek out those who are opposed to the new market at public meetings and on Facebook. I encourage those of you who have spoken to me directly to share that experience openly with others who stand in opposition. ALSO, please help me answer these 4 questions that may clarify your position to the rest of Altadena's residents: http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement
Brent Musson July 20, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Lisa, thanks for that correction. Please see my followup article at http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement/
Brent Musson July 20, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Thanks, Ivan
Brent Musson July 20, 2012 at 04:42 AM
You're welcome, Nico! http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement/
Brent Musson July 20, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Linda, please take my follow up article where I ask a few questions that may help me to understand the "Save Altadena" anti-Walmart position. http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement/
Brent Musson July 20, 2012 at 04:47 AM
it would seem so http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement/
Brent Musson July 20, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Angela, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I followed up this article with another one that also has an active discussion, at: http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement
Brent Musson July 20, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Theresa, this is the first time I have heard your position on this subject. I'm not sure how I've disenfranchised or violated you. When we all found out that Walmart was planning to open at Lincoln and Figueroa, plenty of discussion was apparently going on, but none was directed toward me, so there was no way for me to represent your perspective... Please see my follow up article: Angela, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I followed up this article with another one that also has an active discussion, at: http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement/
Brent Musson July 20, 2012 at 05:11 AM
You're welcome, Lisa! Please see my follow up article at: http://brentmusson.com/understanding-the-save-altadena-movement/


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