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…
- 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.”
- 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.)
- 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.