The city of Baltimore, Maryland could be getting its second Wal-Mart — a 93,000 s.f. supercenter that will be located in a rather unusal place. Known best for its enormous, single story stand-alone box building format, Wal-Mart is going to build on top of a 100,000 s.f. Lowe’s home improvement store at a project known as the 25th Street Station. Eight years ago Wal-Mart opened up its first Baltimore store in the waterfront area. Wal-Mart is trying to promote this project as a ‘green’ building, because it will have a ‘green roof’ with vegetation to filter the storm water runoff from the roof. Wal-Mart is suggesting that the project, which will cost $65 million, will produce 750 permanent jobs — which is an absurdly high figure — even for a Wal-Mart. Much larger supercenters are usually credited with 350 to 400 jobs — but this project is a smaller superstore prototype. Wal-Mart job figures never are adjusted for the jobs that are killed at other retailers. “The site will do so many things, and it’s so consistent with where Baltimore is headed as far as the green movement, and trying to generate jobs,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Daily Record newspaper. “This area has informed us that they want a Wal-Mart.” A Montreal-based developer said Wal-Mart approached him, because the retailer had done an internal survey which showed that nearly 4 out of 10 shoppers in Baltimore leave the city to shop in suburban areas, and 7 out 10 people surveyed said they approved of the idea of a second Wal-Mart in Baltimore. As is always the case, area residents near the 25th Street Station wanted to have nothing to do with the project. A group called the Remington Neighborhood Alliance has raised concerns over traffic and the unattractive design typical of big box stores. “We’re not going to be focused on who the tenants are,” one leader of the RNA told the Daily Record. “We’re going to be focused on the physical details of the project, and the impact on the neighborhood.” The Wal-Mart store as designed will be right up against the street edge. The project also includes 50-60 housing units, and 16 small retail stores on the first floors of the rear of these houses. Symbolically, this Wal-Mart represents the changing times in American cities: the site the retailer wants was a GM and Honda dealership for more than half a century, but with the implosion of the American auto industry, the dealership in Baltimore was notified by General Motors that the car maker would no longer be selling cars at the 25th Street Station area. As the auto industry shrinks, its land is being bought up by the one company that propers in a recession: Wal-Mart. The project is not approved yet — but city officials are not likely to lose sleep over the concerns expressed by neighbors. Wal-Mart needs to get a Planned Unit Development from the Planning Board. The developer’s architectural plan will be reviewed by the city this week.
It is ironic that Detroit’s meltdown, which robbed the GM dealership in Baltimore of his franchise, is paving the way for another Wal-Mart superstore. This is definitely ‘trading down’ jobs. Baltimore ends up getting a truck load full of low-wage jobs, most of which will displace other existing low wage jobs at other retailers. Wal-Mart’s spokesman told the Baltimore Business Journal, “The store will deliver outstanding value to customers and create quality job opportunities for local residents.” These are not “quality jobs,” and offer little by way of opportunity. Retailing in Baltimore the past few years has been like a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, someone is left without a chair to sit on. About a year ago, Filene’s Basement announced that it was closing down three stores in Baltimore. Other major retailers have shut down also. Regional retailer Boscov’s Department Stores shut down three stores, and discount retailer C-Mart closed a store last year as well. One of the Filene’s that closed was in the Towson Place Shopping Center. The store was only open for five years. It was located near a Wal-Mart and a Target in the same mall. The rash of store closings cost the city hundreds of jobs — which explains why Wal-Mart’s claim of “new” jobs are not a net bottom line figure. The big box national chains like Wal-Mart kill off the smaller regional chains like Filene’s, Boscov’s and C-Mart. Readers are urged to email Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Rawlings-Blake, In your State of the City speech, you referred more than once to the city’s historic $120 million deficit. You pledged to continue efforts to revitalize main streets and support small businesses. Do you do that by supporting more suburban sprawl like the proposed Wal-Mart at the 25th Street Station? If you talk to your small businesses, they will explain to you why Filene’s is gone, why Boscov’s left, why C-Mart shut down a store. When you let Wal-Mart build in your city, you are inviting the cannibals to dinner. There are no ‘new’ jobs being created by this project. Wal-Mart has been compared to the plague: it makes all businesses sick, and kills the weak. You should use your influence to reject the Planned Unit Development for this project, and try to bring in companies that make something — instead of companies that glut our markets with cheap Chinese products. When you make a mistake with Wal-Mart, it’s a big mistake. Please act now, before its too late.”