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Wal-Mart debate has councilman introducing ban on some retail chains downtown

March 22, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Los Angeles City Council is expected to consider a new ordinance Friday that could keep Wal-Mart from opening a grocery store and pharmacy in Chinatown.

The retailer has its sights set on a 33,000-square-foot property near Cesar Chavez Avenue and Grand Avenue. Some worry the new store could threaten small businesses, but Wal-Mart is not without its supporters.

Tens of thousands of square feet of space have remained empty for more than 20 years in the Grand Plaza commercial area of a senior citizen's apartment community in Chinatown. The space was created to house a market but it never panned out.

Wal-Mart wants to build a grocery store and pharmacy in the plaza. The retail chain is hoping to break ground this summer.

L.A. City Councilman Ed Reyes represents the area. He wants to block efforts by chain stores such as Wal-Mart to open in Chinatown, arguing that they threaten small businesses and the area's character.

"Let's not misconstrue the impact of this," said Reyes. "I am pro-jobs, I am pro-business, but let's not spoil what makes us unique as a city, in particular an enclave like Chinatown."

Thursday some Chinatown community groups held a news conference to voice support for building the market.

"We feel that Wal-Mart will increase economic vitality into Chinatown and will give better options for our local merchants, for our local residents," said Nicki Ung, executive director, Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles.

"The mom-and-pop stores should have their own right to make all the money they can. Of course Wal-Mart coming to town is eliminating every opportunity that these shops have," said Chinatown resident Kevin Dungey.

"They have the big chain store, and then they have everything [for] a cheap price, and that is going to hurt our business a lot," said Satit Thuvamontolrat, the owner of a liquor store and market just across the street from where the Wal-Mart would be built. He said he's been in business for more than 20 years at the location.

Councilman Reyes has introduced a motion that is expected to be heard at the L.A. City Council Friday. It would ban retail chains from Chinatown that have standardized facades, decor, signage or a trademark or service mark. If approved, the motion would lead to an ordinance blocking permits for so-called "formula retail" stores.

Labor groups have opposed the market because of Wal-Mart's wages and non-union workforce.

Wal-Mart issued a statement: "Given the widespread support from the Chinatown community for new grocery stores, it's clear that this action has nothing to do with the needs of the district and everything to do with serving outside special interests," wrote Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo.

Wal-Mart also said it will continue to engage with the community to build more support for its store.

There are five Wal-Mart stores currently in the city of Los Angeles.


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