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Courting Markets and Ending Up With Walmart

Altadenans have long had high hopes for a great grocery store chain to open in town.... now that Walmart plans to open a market what are we to make of it?

We’ve spent a year or more courting and sparking every pretty girl we’ve ever met, and still no date for the prom. That is, unless we take the cousin of a friend of an acquaintance who just blew in from Arkansas, all unexpected-like. Miss Walmart. Her personality is dubious at best, and she comes from a big-boned family.

I can’t say why no one else shows the slightest interest in Altadena. We’re good looking; many call us handsome when seen in the proper light and from certain angles. We know how to dress, spend freely, talk sweetly. We don’t have B.O.

But when we went a-courtin’ Trader Joes, Fresh & Easy, Whole Foods, and gourmet boutiques, they were always busy washing their hair. They tossed their curls and giggled and said, “I’ve got a date in La Canada.” Or Sierra Madre. Or Montrose.  “I’ll be busy that night and every night this year and next. And by the way, how did you get our unlisted number?”

So apparently, at this particular site, it's Walmart or nothing. At least for now.

I can’t take a moral stance against Walmart because I shop at lots of places where I’m entirely ignorant of their business model and hiring practices -- the extent of the company’s involvement in the community, how many and much of their goods and services are outsourced to other countries, and whether employees have a dental plan.

Also I suspect my  IRA and 401K mutual funds feature a certain company prominently in the mix.

So my argument with Walmart has always been one based on their looks -- on the ugly gulags in Monrovia and elsewhere. The same argument I would have with Home Depot or Cosco and all the other concrete blocks that are pains in the aesthetics.

But the store as planned in our community, ok, don’t bite my head off, but it doesn’t sound all that awful to me.

The area at Fig and Lincoln is as blighted an area as Altadena can dish up. I can’t see that any one of the pretty stores – TJ’s, Starbucks, and the like -- would take a chance on this bad boy.  And I can’t see that a mini-me Walmart , given some landscaping, wouldn’t be an improvement if you actually lived in the general area.  Around the corner from the liquor store, for example.

A big box such as they have in Monrovia is atrocious, but a smaller store with well maintained California native plants and succulents, come on, it’s gotta be better than what’s there now.

At least this store won’t be selling booze, god, or second-hand clothes. 

So whether or not to accept the WalMart, I guess I’m in. If it agrees to certain specs, including particulars about landscaping, maintenance, and hiring from within the community.  

And just because we take Walmart to the prom, it doesn’t mean we have to stay; it doesn’t mean we have to dance. I'll spend my time up north, eating oysters at the Farmer's Market. It's all about choice.

Joan Collazo June 26, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Excellent article- your writing puts things in proper perspective!
Natalie June 26, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Completely agree with you. It's better than the other food stores down the Lincoln corridor (apart from Superking, which is so popular that it's impossible to park). I don't want to have to get my milk, bread and butter from a liquor store or one of those windowless stores that are all barricaded up, too scarey to enter. Let's not forget that many of the people that want a decent grocery store in this part of Altadena are not the kind of people that comment on Patch, have the time to read newspapers, or the income to have a computer and internet connection. If you don't like Walmart, don't shop there, but please let others benefit from it.
Kristen Bezark June 26, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Excellent perspective; and I agree about the blighted neighborhood needing help. I do have a bias against WalMart and I won't shop there, but if it comes down to...well, it's the best we can do...I guess it is. My plan is to court Trader Joe's. Show them some Altadena love, show them we're in it to win it, and this really is a great place to set up shop. In the long run, perhaps Walmart means a slow, albeit imperfect, solution to the overall problem. I honestly believe that Altadena is up to it's residents and it's time we stop waiting for something to happen. Who's in? https://www.facebook.com/BringTraderJoesToAltadenaCa The game is not lost.
Kristen Bezark June 26, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Natalie: I met a young girl that lives in that neighborhood who was putting herself through college and taking care of her mother and brother. Very smart, well dressed. We talked about local news. I think everyone, no matter where they live, wants a decent grocery store. I'm sure people in that neighborhood don't *enjoy* shopping at junky marts, but do it because it's easy and affordable. It's not a 3rd world country over there.
Natalie June 26, 2012 at 04:16 PM
That's a fair comment, but I don't see them commenting on Patch, so we may not be getting a balanced view.
Chris June 26, 2012 at 04:56 PM
"At least this store won’t be selling booze, god, or second-hand clothes." At the very least. Well-written article. So much better than anything one finds on altadenablog.com.
rebel mamma June 26, 2012 at 07:02 PM
"The area at Fig and Lincoln is as blighted an area as Altadena can dish up." SERIOUSLY??? Many of us live in and LOVE this neighborhood. I think you should also read up more on Wal-Mart. To quote an open letter to Antonovich from one of my neighbors, "Because it imports much of its merchandise from China (which of course adds to the U.S. trade deficit), Walmart can undercut the prices of its competitors, often driving them out of business. Typically, in the first year a new Walmart opens, up to 25% of neighboring businesses close. Overall, about 40% of neighboring businesses eventually fail." I don't think any neighborhood small businesses want this kind of horrible competition. Even the "blighted" businesses that I and my neighbors frequent.
Angela Odom June 26, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Exactly!!! You are absolutely right. Wal-Mart is an American company and with it's subsidiary, Sam's Club, it is the largest private employer in the world (globally) hiring between 2.1 to 2.2 million people. It has an operating margin of between 3.5% to 5% making it very lean, which means yes, they are cutting corners somewhere. How do I know these things? I look at every fund in all of my retirement accounts and The Vanguard group owns more shares of Wal-Mart than Jim Walton (around 86 million). Kicking Walmart while simultaneously contributing and benefiting from them is a bit hypocritical. There are other funds holding shares of Wal-Mart as well. If you want to hurt a company, divest yourself. Call your fund manager and ask them to remove funds from all retirement accounts with shares of Wal-Mart. That will get their attention. Understand too that the law of unintended consequences will kick in as soon as the company begins to fall. Those 2.1 million people will lose their jobs, suppliers will lose contracts and will lay off employees, those businesses thriving from those employees and contractors will lose business and close, and just like it was back in the day when young people protested against big U.S. automakers by purchasing foreign cars, jobs are lost, homes are lost and the local businesses will close thus, blighted communities.
altadena_local June 26, 2012 at 08:24 PM
A great opinion piece, It's important for Altadena to insure that the hiring comes from the 91001. If you figure 70 jobs - even at minimum wage - that almost $1.5 million in annual wages.
Chris June 26, 2012 at 10:43 PM
No way will any of this have any effect on Walmart moving one of their locations here. I'll put USD20 on it.
Natalie June 26, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Those figures of how neighboring businesses are affected are surely for the big box Walmart stores. This one is a convenience store -I don't think it'll be selling furniture or clothes.
Stephen Jones June 27, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Wal-Mart is Evil, Evil, Evil. Man of us are gearing up for a fight to keep this anti-union, low-wage, robber-baron scum out of our town.
Stephen Jones June 27, 2012 at 05:33 AM
My money's in Calvert Funds. Sustainability, responsibility, and good governance required, or they don't invest -- and they still beat the market. A very large number of Wal-Mart's employees can't make enough to get off food stamps; so the American taxpayer, in effect, subsidizes their anti-union, low-wage, robber-baron, buy-from-China, screw everyone business model. They ought to be run out of every town in the U.S. on a rail.
Angela Odom June 27, 2012 at 07:15 AM
Yes, yes, Calvert is an excellent fund. Years ago they were one of the first (if memory serves me) that did not invest in companies doing business in South Africa. An excellent fund. Now that's putting your money where you mouth is and yeah, Wal-Mart actually went to them to find out why they did not invest in them. Love them. Good deal.
Angela Odom June 27, 2012 at 07:38 AM
"anti-union, low-wage, robber-baron, buy-from-China" wow, what brand TV do you have? What car do you drive? Americans love foreign products so what makes Wal-Mart any different from the rest of us? Union? Isn't that why companies are outsourcing the jobs overseas? What, 20% to 35% of overhead because of a union? The price of that product just went up and you know we don't cotton well to overpriced items. Those other countries don't have unions, no regulations regarding air and water? They're just like we were as a growing nation before we wised up. They'll eventually get there -- unions, regulations, etc. -- but right now, they don't and right now, until we really wise up, we love those cheap foreign products. I don't need to fight Wal-Mart in order to save me from myself.
Natalie June 27, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Is Superking unionized? Do they offer health benefits? Anyone know? There wasn't any opposition to their opening, and they've been a good thing for the area by providing very inexpensive fruit and vegetables (much less than at the Farmer's Markets), but I've heard they drive a very hard bargain with the local farmers, and get much of their fresh produce from Mexico - where I guess the workers aren't unionized. Yet I didn't hear of any attempts to stop them opening.
Kristen Bezark June 27, 2012 at 04:39 PM
You pick your battles. I buy Apple products, but I do so many other things that help the world. The only way to ensure you don't hurt anyone or purchase things from companies that harm the planet or it's people is to make everything yourself, walk everywhere, and live off the fat of the land. This isn't always practical so you do the best you can. Once you start quibbling about every company, you'll realize they're all bad in some way. Literally, all of them. Some are better than others, some are downright evil. Pick your battles, do what you can, and try not to hurt people.
Angela Odom June 27, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Super King, Super A, Superior, La Esquina carniceria and other local grocers are not union shops and that is why the Big 3 -- Ralph's, Von's and Albertsons' -- are hurting. Albertsons' is about to lay off about 2,000 employees soon.
Angela Odom June 27, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I'm sorry, after I typed it I went to check and Super A is a union shop.
Karin Bugge June 27, 2012 at 06:59 PM
I did a little checking into the beauty queen that does get my money -- Trader Joe's -- and although not a union shop, they apparently pay higher than union wages, with benefits. There's an article on money.cnn.com for 8/20/2010 that gives a peek into their super-smart business model and how they choose locations. If we want a TJ's, we'd all better subscribe to some high-end foodie mags.
Pasadena Adjacent June 29, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Can't you get Jonathan Gold on board for TJ? I think he lives in your hood. And thank you Angela Odom for your brilliant explanation on the economic house of cards we all share. Walmart takes all the heat, but for every Walmart in the SG Valley there are three Targets. Is Target union? Lastly, just to be a contrarian, aren't Liquor stores mom and pop operations too?
michele Zack June 29, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I asked Super King employees if they received health insurance as a benefit and was told no about a year ago. My daughter worked there one summer of high school when it was still Farm Fresh and pay was not good, but a bit more than minimum. Honestly, she wasn't very dedicated and never got past being a bagger — so in her case the pay seemed fair. But for full time employees with families, it must be tough. I appreciate Karin's balanced approach, and agree that getting them to hire local and do a decent job landscaping would be productive strategies. They will be looking to make friends in Altadena the next year or so because they will want to get a liquor license — so these are reasonable things we might get from them. I am most concerned that they plan to be a site-to-store outlet, which means people can order anything from their catalogue and have it delivered for free to the store for pick-up. THAT will impact small businesses other than grocery stores and is something we might think about trying to oppose.
yeahian July 02, 2012 at 06:19 AM
TJ's pays crap. They are a horrible place to work for. they are a big part of the problem. An excuse for corp. to try and break the unions at places lkike von's lucky's..Though Walmart is the main excuse. what happened in the strike of 2002 (or close to ) really set back all unions. We'll see if they ever recover.
yeahian July 02, 2012 at 06:24 AM
apple is pretty evil.
Lisa Hastings July 02, 2012 at 06:55 AM
altadenablog does a fantastic job reuniting people with their lost dogs or cats. As to the rest, the altadenablog owner/parent Timothy Rutt scolds people as if they were his children when he doesn't like their comments and also removes comments and shuts down the discussion if it gets too "heated." He's already deleted many comments and has shut down several discussions on the Walmart issue.
Daniel E. Harlow July 02, 2012 at 07:31 AM
Interesting this site seems to contradict that http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Trader-Joe-s-Salaries-E5631.htm seems they pay standard $8-20/hr with the average being about $12.40ish Daniel
Karin Bugge July 02, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Dan, not sure what the truth is. I looked at the site you referenced and then a couple of others. Apparently salary varies greatly according to region and state. Not surprisingly, seems California and New York pay the highest wages. Yeahian, have you worked there? If so, perhaps you have more info.
Lori A. Webster July 10, 2012 at 02:28 AM
I've actually worked for Trader Joe's and they do pay above average for a grocery retail operation. Normally, grocery workers (baggers, etc.) are hired in at minimum wage, same as most retail jobs, but Trader Joe's, at least in SoCal, started me $2.50 above that. They also have a great 401K matching program and pay their management, promoted from within, very well. The only drawback is when you do finally make management, or even as a senior cashier, you're subject to transfer. We had an 8-months pregnant ass't manager where I worked and she got transferred out of state - she had to go even though she was due to give birth within weeks. True that they are not unionized and true that they're not American owned.

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