By Mary Moore, Boston Business Journal

BOSTON (CBS) – Wal-Mart Stores is ramping up its search for a possible location in Roxbury, setting up a potential showdown between some leaders of the city’s African-American community who see advantages to welcoming the retailer and Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who is a staunch opponent.

Community sources in Roxbury said the pace of conversations about Wal-Mart’s interest in the section of the city has picked up in the past two months, with conversations frequently focusing on parcels along Melnea Cass Boulevard, particularly near the intersections at Harrison Avenue and Washington Street. The retailer is working actively with The Dartmouth Company, a Boston-based commercial and retail broker, to identify space options, several sources said.

The Dartmouth Company, in turn, has contacted at least one other retail and commercial real estate broker who does deals in Roxbury, among other urban locations. Richard Taylor, the broker, said the Dartmouth Company had approached him as recently as April, asking him to help identify sites.

Boston Business Journal’s Lisa Van Der Pool reports

“What I can tell you is that part of Wal-Mart’s program is to talk to brokers who have done a lot of work in urban markets,” said Taylor, previous chairman of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “I got a call.”

A Dartmouth Company representative declined comment. A Wal-Mart spokesman, Steven Restivo, would not discuss business relationships but said Wal-Mart is continuing to evaluate sites throughout Boston, its search
“centered on under-served communities in terms of jobs and access to affordable groceries.” Store sizes range from 15,000 to 150,000 square feet, Restivo said, and the smaller stores focus heavily on groceries.

The foray into Boston is nothing new for Wal-Mart. The company’s name emerged as a possible tenant for a vacant Downtown Crossing site as early as 2005. That move, of course, never happened.

Amid the latest search, powerful allies are taking sides in whether a Wal-mart store would be welcome.

A prominent leader of the city’s African-American community, current Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts president Darnell Williams, said there could be good economic arguments for welcoming the company. Among his roles, Williams is head of a Boston Redevelopment Authority task force that oversees a master plan for Roxbury. While that group cannot endorse a particular commercial use, Darnell said, it would welcome and “vet” a proposal from Wal-Mart.

“We believe it’s important, if we look at the economic development within Roxbury, for us to embrace a project that would bring jobs for residents, increase traffic for people to come from other parts of the city to Roxbury and enhance the infrastructure of Roxbury,” Williams said.

“Everyone has issues,” he added. “How do we get (Wal-Mart) to explain how they would deal with the issues.”

One very important player who has made no secret of his issues with Wal-Mart is Menino.

Even if Wal-Mart ends up purchasing private property, it ultimately must face the mayor, who has not wavered in his public statements opposing Wal-Mart in Boston – in part, he has said, because it could force local Roxbury store owners out of business. Wal-mart also is no friend of unions, while Menino has a lot of political support from organized labor and hits Wal-mart for worker-issues.

In a recent telephone interview, Menino criticized Wal-Mart for what he called “throwing money around” to Boston nonprofits and suggested the national retailer is trying buy the groups’ support.

The Wal-mart Foundation donated $2.1 million to Boston-based nonprofits in the last fiscal year, which ended in February. Local donations include $25,000 to the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, along with an additional $15,000 this year, Williams said.

Menino said he met recently with Margaret McKenna, president of the Wal-mart Foundation, and she presented him with all the reasons why he should be “in favor of Walmart.”

“We agreed to disagree,” he said.

In Roxbury itself, one argument cited by critics is the potential impact on existing local stores – businesses such as Tropical Foods, a family-owned grocery with 8,500 square feet of retail space that mainly caters to customers with Caribbean and African backgrounds and has operated for 35 years at the intersection of Melnea Cass and Washington Street. The prospect that a Wal-mart might open anywhere nearby makes Ronn Garry Jr., president of the company that operates the store, nervous.

“It’s a bit of the pit in the stomach,” said Garry, who added that Tropical Foods has plans to expand to an adjacent site and build 20,000 square feet of retail space. “To have somebody come in with (Wal-Mart’s) resources and to knock us out of the box as we’re trying to expand ourselves is a scary prospect for us.”

Asked if Wal-Mart would shy away from Roxbury because of the proximity to Tropical Foods, spokesman Restivo said that would not be a consideration.

“Businesses that can diversify themselves and take advantage of the spike in customer activity that comes with a WaL-mart store want to be as close to our stores as possible,” he said.

The Urban League’s Williams said he does not view Wal-Mart and Tropical Foods as “mutually exclusive” and said opportunities would exist for both, even in the same neighborhood.

Menino’s tough stance against Wal-Mart does not sway Williams. The impact on local retailers such as Tropical Foods, he said, would pose an economic balancing act that would “sort itself out” over time.

Comments (3)
  1. S M says:

    As a resident of the city Roxbury for some fifty years now I think the residents should have a say in the welcoming or denying a Wal-Mart in our community.

    The question was asked why is Target accepted and Wal-Mart not. In my opinion Target was not welcomed by all. Target coming into the neighborhood was on the sneak tip. What I mean is 95% of the peopell in the area found out that Target was opening once the deal was final so to speak.

    May residents of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan and South Boston would if asked perfer a Wal-mart over a Target. Why? I am glad you asked. Target is ridiculously expensive. Targets clothing prices if compared are over 50% more in pricing then Wal-Mart.

    Most families in the inner city are affected by the economy; loss of jobs. Running through savings to survive, going in debt, no job opportunities. The last thing one needs in a business in the community that makes it impossible to shop due to MOTE THEN NORMAL PRICES.

    Is a Wal-Mart needed yes, why? I’m glad you asked. Not only will there be employment opportunities whether they carry benefits or not; very low income families will be able to afford the service offered by Wal-Mart. Not just the clothing, pampers, coats and shoes; families will be able to shop with ease not worrying about astronomical prices of Target and Stop and Shop.

    Yes I do agree, several Mom and Pop shops will be affected; but honestly speaking how many of those shops still exist and what group of people are still benefiting from them.

    The way I see it there are more Asian shops now set up in a community that should be given an opportunity for its small business minded residents to be given a chance. The Asian businesses that have set up in the city of Rebury, Dorchester and Mattapan should be put out of Business. Honestly, what are these businesses contributing to the community? With all the Asian nail shops, clothing and footwear shops around how are the residents benefiting? They sure don’t employ residents and if they do it to make the consumer feel comfortable enough to shop with them, that’s their motive and deception to pull the community in to conduct business with them. Not only that; whenever you visit an Asian store in these community they ALWAYS post all their merchandise as on SALE. This information is false. All the items in these stores are sold on sale at the regular price to keep the customer from making a return that would allow them to receive cash back. By placing everything on sale in these stores at what is the regular price gives the business owner the upper hand by offering a store credit only, keeping the money flowing through their stores and at the same time ripping the consumer off from their legal right -to make a cash return with-in 7-14 days

    Everyone is so concerned about the impact Wal-Mart might have on the community; who is investigating the businesses that already exist and are a secret threat? These stores need to be forced out of business. They are only in it for themselves not looking to help the community at large but to drain them dry while disrespecting it consumers at the same time.


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