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City Council votes for Chinatown major retail-chain ban, but doesn't block Wal-Mart store

Some worry a proposed grocery store/pharmacy could threaten small businesses in Chinatown, but Wal-Mart has supporters.
March 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Los Angeles City Council voted for a proposal to ban major retail-chain stores in Chinatown Friday, but did not block a Wal-Mart slated for the area.

Wal-Mart wants to open a new 33,000-square-foot grocery store and pharmacy at Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues in Chinatown.

City Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the area, proposed a City Council ordinance that would block large retail chain stores from opening in Chinatown. The neighborhood has dozens of smaller markets that would be in direct competition with retail giants.

"Let's not misconstrue the impact of this," Reyes said Thursday. "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."

The L.A. City Council considered the ordinance on Friday. The Council voted unanimously in favor of a proposal to ban major retail chains from opening in Chinatown, but did not block the Wal-Mart store in question.

The 13-0 vote directed the Planning Department and City Attorney's Office to draft a temporary ordinance to block so-called formula retail stores, stores that have standardized facades, decor, signage, or a trademark or servicemark. Once it is drafted, the ordinance will need the approval of the Planning Commission and the full City Council.

The Wal-Mart store and pharmacy would be located at the bottom of a building that's made up of senior citizen housing. There are 33,000 square feet of retail space available on the first floor.

Some residents want Wal-Mart's cheaper prices and products closer to home.

"Wal-Mart has cheaper discounts. So for families that need better products, Wal-Mart has them," said Chinatown resident Katrina Montoya.

"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.

Congresswoman Judy Chu and labor groups oppose Wal-Mart's wages and non-union workforce. They're concerned the chain would not re-circulate profits back into the area.

Wal-Mart said it plans to engage the community and build more support for the store and the jobs that it would create.

"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," Wal-Mart Spokesman Steven Restivo said in a statement released Thursday.

Wal-Mart hopes to begin construction this summer.

City News Service contributed to this report.


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