Walmart Advances on Recession-Struck Cities

Going boldly where no Walmart has gone before, the giant makes moves towards New York, Boston, D.C.

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The fact that Walmart Inc's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas remained open today despite a foot of fresh snow in the area and the resulting lack of employees was yet another reminder that the world's largest company does not let anything block its doors from swinging wide open. Not snow, not some silly documentary--whatever that is--and certainly not the recession. In fact, news from the BBC shows that Walmart's decline in revenues over the last six quarters--a result of the economy's effect on Walmart's customer base--has only served as a prompt for the company to expand to places where the impacts of the recession are not as readily apparent. Walmart's "final frontier," says the BBC, are large cities.

The news of Walmart's urban advance is all around us: There was talk last week of a New York city-council hearing in Manhattan about a proposed store, whispers of a Walmart in Brooklyn yesterday (put that in your pipe and smoke it, all you New York Times-beloved wannabe documentary-makers, you denim-clad peddlers of nostalgia), grumblings about incursions into Boston, and to top it all off the BBC reporting today on plans to open four outlets in Washington D.C by 2012. Is the apocalypse upon us?

The plan to take our nation's capital is disconcerting on a variety of levels. First, one Walmart is roughly equivalent to at least 8 other normal stores--doesn't four seem superfluous? Is it one for each quadrant? An outlet for each branch of our government (including the Press as the fourth, of course)? Will they include a restaurant for lobbyist lunches?

This news also comes on the heels of Walmart's announcement a couple of weeks ago--complete with some First Lady star powers --that they would reduce sodium and added sugar and increase their selection of local produce over the next five years.

"Five or 10 years ago there was such acrimony around Wal-Mart that it would have been very difficult for them to enter the city," says D.C. council member David Catania in the BBC. Well, then: why is D.C., or any other city for that matter, lowering the drawbridge now? Is this purely about unemployment?

Coincidentally, news of an academic study came out two weeks ago that made some direct ties between the shopping center and obesity rates. The research showed that one new Walmart for every 100,000 residents lead to an "average weight gain of 1.5 pounds per person....over a 10-year period dating from the store's opening," reported Shannon Proudfoot at the Montreal Gazette, in addition to raising the rate of obesity by "2.3 percentage points." That means that "for every 100 people, two who weren't obese ended up in that category after a superstore opened."

The prices may be rock-bottom at the store, but apparently it's not saving anybody money in the long run. "Only a small portion of consumers' savings," at Walmart were offset by "the resulting increase in medical expenditures," the study's abstract dryly notes.

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