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Walmart detractors line up to say no

The retailer has faced challenges about its reputation before, spokesman says.

August 12, 2011|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com
(By Walmart Stores…)

Public outrage about the possible opening of a Walmart store in Burbank went from the social media to a City Council meeting Tuesday as a group of residents let city officials know they do not want the world’s largest retailer moving into their community.

Walmart has not officially announced it will open one of its stores on the site adjacent to the Empire Center that formerly housed the Great Indoors, which was acquired in June. Walmart officials, who have been meeting with elected officials, acknowledge the property is a prime location for a new store. 

Deputy City Manager Joy Forbes said Wednesday that a grocery store is allowed at the 12-acre site, but other uses, such as alcohol sales and operating 24 hours, would require a conditional-use permit. 

Kat Olson, one of several residents who addressed the City Council on Tuesday, said a Walmart would increase traffic in the already congested area around the Empire Center. It would also cause parking problems, increase crime and drive out other retailers by lowering prices, she argued, reflecting a common refrain among Walmart detractors.

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“I appreciate the potential impact in terms of tax revenue [from Walmart], but some things are more important than money,” Olson said.

In an interview, Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo said the concerns of residents where the retailer has moved before are nothing new and that the company looked forward to dispelling unfounded fears.

“The reputational challenges we face are no secret to us,” he said. “Quite frankly, in the past we’ve not done the best job of getting out the positive side of the company.”

He said most Walmart employees work full-time and are paid wages that meet or exceed competitors. Nearly three-quarters of managers at their stores started as hourly associates, he added. 

The ultimate form of a new Walmart could also vary widely as the retailer rolls out store layouts designed to fit 150,000- to 15,000-square-foot buildings. 

Restivo said the company will hold public meetings where local residents can voice their concerns and make suggestions for what they would like in a Walmart, such as store size and hours, should the retailer decide to move in.

He said he was unable to give a timeline on when a decision would be made on a new store.

Restivo added that ultimately, despite the protest of some, the verdict on a Walmart’s success would be made by consumers.

“They’ll vote with their pocketbooks,” he said.

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