Business Lead Story West Edition

Compton mayor says Walmart will meet with residents

COMPTON – Local retailers and residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed Walmart in their community, after all.

Mayor Aja Brown said Tuesday that she would ask the retail giant to present its case to the community at an upcoming council meeting, giving residents a chance to hear how the city – and its local business owners – would benefit from Walmart’s presence.

“My role is acting on behalf of the citizens to make certain that whatever is proposed is of the highest quality and, if they move forward, that there is a standard of operation and outreach and integration with small businesses here in the city,” Brown said during a City Council meeting Tuesday night.

“We will get some dates for workshops… for small businesses to connect with Walmart and begin the process of being able to offer goods and services to the store,” Brown added.

No meeting dates have been made public.

The announcement that Walmart planned to open a 133,000-square-foot store at Long Beach Boulevard and Orchard Avenue next year had rankled some retailers who claimed that the retail giant would crush local mom-and-pop stores that had supported the city for generations. Other activists expressed concern that city officials had approved the deal without input from affected residents.

Residents now will be able to express their sentiments – pro or con – at the upcoming meeting with Walmart, observers said. And they apparently have lots to say.

Many residents believe Walmart will benefit the city, bringing jobs, new tax revenue, spin-off development and fresh retail options to this struggling community, while others say the birth of Walmart here means the death of most local businesses.

Richard Hwang, manager of 69-year-old Mid City True Value Hardware, said he believes that if the big giants come in, they’ll kill the small ones.

“The small businesses are going to go away. … They are the ones who made the City of Compton,” he said. “We don’t know the future, but city officials should look out for small business people. They really have to protect small business people.”

Dozens of businesses have closed already, said Kirk Kim, owner of Cycadelic Music, a 30-year tenant of the shuttered Compton Swap Meet, where the proposed Walmart would be housed. “When it closed, 70 vendors went out of business,” he said.

Sergio Ortega, an employee at Mata Sports – a vendor of soccer- and team-related merchandise – said Mata has supported the community more than 15 years and, while “we’re not making a lot of money… we’ve getting along.”

“I’ve been in different states and in small towns and seen what happens when the big stores come,” he said. “The little stores are gone.”

Mata Sports’ owner, Enrique Mata, said he’s determined to keep that from happening at his store. “We are going to find a way to keep going forward and will not let the corporation come and take over all of our business.”

“If it has to be lower prices down to just pay the bills and to eat, then that’s what we’ll do,” he added.

Walmart spokesperson Delia Garcia said despite sentiment among some that big box stores destroy local retailers, many business owners actually benefit from a neighboring Walmart.

“Businesses located near a Walmart tend to thrive,” he said. “There are businesses that sell things that we don’t sell.  In fact, they seek out and want to be near a Walmart because of the additional visibility that it brings to their businesses.”

Garcia also said there’d be opportunities for Walmart to support existing organizations that provide services to small businesses.

“It is very early in the capital project, and as we continue… we will deepen the relationship with the community, engage with it, provide updates [and] make people aware of supplier opportunities and how to work at the store,” she said.

Garcia said Walmart has yet to set a local hiring percentage, but the superstore is committed to local hiring. “It just makes good business sense to hire locally, and that is typically what Walmart does,” she said.

Brown said she’s discussed several issues with Walmart, including public safety, landscaping, additional cameras for security, local wages and benefits, a minimum level of employment of local residents and local vendor and supplier programs.

Those things and more should be considered when determining whether to invite a big box store into your community, said economist Jordan Levine, director of economic research at Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics.

“You want to hold the economic benefits up against some of the costs, like traffic and the effects on surrounding businesses and businesses that were located at the site,” Levine said. “The city [then] can make an informed decision based on their priorities and values.”