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Wal-Mart plans to open grocery store in L.A.'s Chinatown

February 25, 2012 |  7:33 pm

Retail giant Wal-Mart said Saturday that it plans to open a market in a multi-story apartment building on the edge of L.A.’s Chinatown neighborhood, setting the stage for a major struggle with the city’s labor unions and advocacy groups.

Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said his company plans to open a 33,000-square-foot grocery store at the northwest corner of Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues, inside the ground floor of a residential complex for seniors.

The store would be roughly one-fifth the size of a typical Wal-Mart store and the first of the company’s so-called Neighborhood Markets to open in Los Angeles County, he said.

The news drew a furious response from the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, an advocacy group that has long been at odds with Wal-Mart.

James Elmendorf, the group’s deputy director, accused the company of providing low-quality, low-paying jobs and said his organization has already begun researching the history of the building where Wal-Mart plans to open the grocery store.

When that building opened in 1992, the developer promised to provide 196 jobs within three years, two-thirds of them for low-income residents, Elmendorf said. That promise, along with a handful of others, helped the developer receive millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, he said.

“This store shouldn’t open until all the requirements that were imposed on the development by the city are fully satisfied,” Elmendorf said.

Restivo said Wal-Mart pays an average hourly wage of $12.69 to its full-time workers in California and gives those employees, as well as those who work 24 hours per week, access to a healthcare plan.

“Our wages and benefits are competitive with a majority of our California competitors," he said.

The Wal-Mart spokesman said the store would provide affordable grocery options, as well as a pharmacy, to residents of downtown. “Right now, they’ve got one full-service supermarket serving a 30-block radius. So our store is going to be part of the solution for folks who want fresh food options close to where they live or work,” he said.

Wal-Mart’s plans, first reported by the Los Angeles Business Journal, were revealed days after United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, which represents supermarket workers, held a rally to oppose approval of a Wal-Mart store in Burbank.

Wal-Mart has a history of conflict with elected officials in Los Angeles. In 2004, the City Council approved an ordinance that made it more difficult for Wal-Mart to open one of its “superstores” -- the kind that have groceries. That ordinance required retailers wanting to build a store larger than 100,000 square feet with 10% of its sales floor devoted to food and other nontaxable items to provide an economic analysis showing whether the store would depress wages or hurt nearby businesses.

Restivo said Wal-Mart has a lease with the owner of the building in Chinatown. The company plans to start construction work this summer and has secured some of the building permits needed to remodel the site. That work will not require any approval from the council, he said.

There are 28 Wal-Mart stores in Los Angeles County, employing about 12,000 people. Five of those stores are in the city of Los Angeles, according to company officials.

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-- David Zahniser

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