Business L.A. Digest West Edition

City, business leaders clashing over new Walmart

COMPTON – A new Walmart superstore will bring jobs, tax revenue and expanded retail options to this small urban community, city officials say, but some business leaders believe the retail giant will crush dozens of mom-and-pop stores that have served the city and its residents for generations.

Speaking at a March 26 town hall meeting, city and Walmart officials announced plans to open a 133,000-square-foot Walmart next year on the site of a former Sears store at Long Beach Boulevard and Orchard Avenue, bringing with it nearly 300 jobs, much-needed tax revenue and a place where residents can find fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and bakery goods.

“Compton residents are excited about the creation of 300 new jobs, as well as the opportunity to purchase groceries, merchandise and pharmacy services in their own community,” said Councilman Isaac Galvan, whose district would house the retail giant. “We look forward to building a strong relationship with our newest corporate citizen.”

But the president and some members of the Compton Chamber of Commerce say they worry that the Walmart Supercenter will dominate the business community and drive smaller retailers out of business. They also say city officials approved the new store without any input from business or community leaders.

“Someone needs to tell the Chamber and Compton residents how Walmart got to the point of announcing a new store in Compton without any input from the public,” said chamber president Dr. Lestean Johnson.

“Our businesses and residents have been calling … asking why they didn’t know,” she added. “It was not voted on by the council and hasn’t been on their agenda.”

Johnson said she met for a year with former City Manager Harold Duffy to find out if Walmart was coming to Compton, “and for one year, I was told ‘No.’ ”

“At each one of my meetings I said Walmart would have a negative economic impact on my small ‘mom-and-pop’ businesses,” Johnson said. “Chamber members, our small businesses and residents want to know the mayor’s position on Walmart. I don’t think this issue is going to blow over.”

Mayor Aja Brown said Walmart halted plans on its planned store after originally expressing interest in 2014, but resumed conversations and shared a definitive plan with city officials at a meeting earlier this year.

“During this meeting, we discussed economic impacts to the community, local wages and benefits and the establishment of community benefits to the city,” Brown said. Those benefits include a hiring minimum of 70 percent Compton residents, a local vendor preference program and a local supplier diversity and expansion program, which she said would “provide a clear pathway for locally produced goods to be available in the Compton store.”

Brown said because Walmart acquired an existing retail center, “no city approvals were legally required to locate the store in Compton.” Community Development Director Steven Masura added, however, that Walmart officials would still need to come to the city for building permits.

The Compton Swapmeet, also known as the Compton Fashion Center, occupied the proposed Walmart site for more than 30 years before it closed in mid-January.  Small business owners sold clothing, jewelry, bicycles, hair pieces and other items there.

The new Walmart, meanwhile, will include a full-service pharmacy, a $4 generic prescription program and discount merchandise, officials said.

The store will hire full- and part-time employees in several areas, including management, customer service, personnel, maintenance, sales and more, officials said.

Company officials will work with civic groups to identify job candidates and will open a local hiring center for applicants to ask questions, apply for jobs and schedule interviews.

The new store also will give local vendors greater business opportunities, said Walmart spokesman Javier Angulo. He said Walmart spent more than $55 million for merchandise and services from Compton suppliers in 2013, which helped support 690 supplier jobs.

“A new store in Compton represents a growth opportunity for local suppliers,” Angulo said. “It means that we will be looking to source even more products from suppliers in the region and do more business locally.”