Grill Walmart: The retail giant answers your questions

By | April 10th, 2012 | 14 Comments
"How May I Help You?" by Robby Campbell

Walmart answers 10 of your questions about its plan to open its first Miami location. -- illustration by Robby Campbell

On March 29, we gave you the opportunity to grill Walmart on its controversial plan to open its first location in the City of Miami, a two-story store in Midtown, and scores of you took the opportunity to be heard in the form of post comments, emails, tweets, and Facebook postings.

Since many of you touched on similar topics (and since Walmart agreed to answer exactly 10 questions), we combined several of your submissions to form each of our first five questions, whereas each of the second five questions we submitted came from an individual person. Thanks to everyone who participated in the Grill Walmart forum on the question side, and also to Walmart for agreeing to provide answers.

Below you will find the 10 questions we submitted to Walmart (in bold) and Walmart’s spokesman Steve Restivo’s responses. Walmart has not agreed to field any follow-ups, but I’m sure the retail giant is curious to know your responses to its answers. So feel free to leave a comment here or via Twitter with the hashtag #grillwalmart or on the Beached Miami Facebook page.

1. One of the most consistent issues raised in the reader submitted questions was traffic. Does Walmart have a specific plan to deal with the extra traffic the store will cause? How can you address these concerns?

Restivo: It is certainly in our best interest to ensure that access to our store is convenient for both our customers and our associates. Traffic in Miami is always a real concern and Midtown has significant traffic issues that exist without Walmart or any other new developments. In fact, we are working with our developer partner to incorporate traffic mitigation solutions that will benefit the Midtown development as a whole, while maintaining the safety and security of the patrons in the area.

2. Another similar topic we received several questions about was how the store would fit in with the pedestrian-friendly design plan of Midtown. Will Walmart make Midtown a better neighborhood to walk in, and what specifics can you provide as to how this Walmart will be pedestrian friendly?

Restivo: The current site is surrounded by a chain-link fence at the southernmost point of the Midtown development. Without question, this is not presently a very desirable walk. As you can see from the renderings we recently made public, our store design is approachable and inviting to pedestrians. We think our Midtown store will be popular for customers traveling by car as well as those who choose to walk.

Walmart’s renderings for its proposed Midtown location.

3. Our readers consistently had a very basic but important question: Why Midtown? They also questioned why the store wasn’t located on Seventh Avenue, somewhere west of I-95 (areas where there are less amenities and higher unemployment). The most frequently mentioned area was the shopping center at 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. Can you tell us why/how the company chose Midtown?

Restivo: At Walmart, we think a store in Midtown can be part of the solution for folks who need a job or who want more affordable grocery options close to where they live or work. What’s more, we know that city residents are going out of their way to shop and work in our stores and we want to make access more convenient. Last year Miami residents spent more than $85 million at our stores OUTSIDE the city and we already employ more than 350 city residents. A new Walmart store in Midtown will ensure that much of that current Walmart spending outside the city — and the subsequent tax revenue — will stay in Miami.

4. The issue of class, and the divide between the more well-off condo residents and the working class neighborhood to the west of North Miami Avenue, often comes up in discussions about Walmart’s potential move to Midtown. How do you see the role of class in this debate? Do you think that some of the backlash to the store is based on class prejudice?

Restivo: At Walmart, we serve more than 140 million customers each week nationwide. That means when you shop at Walmart, you’ll see customers that represent just about every age, income level and demographic. A store in Midtown would be no different.

5. We’ve seen comments and questions concerning the quality of the jobs that Walmart creates, and the level of pay and benefits. Others have argued that Walmart actually destroys more jobs then it creates by driving smaller companies out of business. How do you respond to these two points? Also, can you give us details as to the kind of jobs this store will create, how well those jobs will pay, and how the hiring/recruiting process would proceed?

Restivo: We’re proud of our jobs and think they are among the best in all of retail. A job at Walmart means access to competitive wages, affordable benefits, and the chance to build a career. Our average wage for regular, full-time hourly associates in Florida is $12.47 per hour, nearly 64 percent higher than the state’s minimum wage. This is a figure that we voluntarily share in every state where we do business. Our medical plans are available for as little as $15 bi-weekly and last year, we promoted more than 161,000 hourly associates across the country.

For these reasons and more, more than 93,000 people choose to work at Walmart stores in Florida. It’s also why we regularly see thousands of applicants for just a few hundred job opportunities at a new store. Many of these applicants are folks who have worked in retail before and are seeking a better job.

With city unemployment at 11.7 percent, it’s clear that Miami residents need more local job opportunities. Our Midtown store will create about 400 temporary construction jobs and 350 permanent positions. These Walmart jobs will include a mix of full- and part-time positions in store management, pharmacy, human resources, customer service, cashiers, and sales associates. We’ll also place an emphasis on local hiring.

In terms of impact on surrounding area businesses, our stores traditionally help stimulate economic development and jobs in surrounding areas. The small businesses that surround our stores generally have products and services we don’t offer or are strong in areas where we can’t compete. From restaurants, salons, banks, and florists to bookstores, specialty grocers, and wine and spirits shops, there are dozens of small business categories that typically surround our stores.

6. Why not deploy the more reasonably-scaled Walmart “Neighborhood Market” concept in Midtown that exists in other urban areas? It seems you are trying to attract customers from all over Miami-Dade with the size of the current proposed store, which will degrade the neighborhood with automobile traffic. — question submitted by Craig Chester

Restivo: This location has always been intended for a large-format retailer. In fact, the JCPenney that was previously approved for this location was going to be larger than what Walmart plans to build.

7. Miami 21 is a zoning plan that focuses on creating walkable, pedestrian-friendly urban areas. Is Walmart committed to upholding these goals at their proposed Midtown location? — question submitted by Sara

Restivo: While we have not yet submitted plans to the city, we are confident that our store will adhere to the code associated with the current site.

8. Will Walmart offer benefits to its gay and lesbian employees who are currently registered with Miami-Dade Domestic Partnerships? — question submitted by Larry Fields

Restivo: As we constantly challenge ourselves to improve our benefit offerings, the Walmart benefits team and executive leadership will continue to evaluate partner medical benefits. Today, Walmart offers equal domestic partner benefits in jurisdictions required by law.

At Walmart “Respect for the Individual” is one of our three core beliefs and the foundation of our company. We believe that every individual deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Walmart is an active participant in LGBT conferences, community relationships, and internal education events focused on workplace diversity. For example, our participation in the Out & Equal Workplace Summit allows Walmart the opportunity to continue to learn about workplace equality in the LGBT community, This is part of our firm commitment to provide a diverse and inclusive work environment for our more than two million associates around the globe and to maintain our competitive strengths in recruitment and retention of all talents.

9. What exactly is the problem that Walmart believes it is solving (point three on the fact sheet) for Midtown residents? — question submitted by Ken De Loreto

Restivo: As previously stated, we think our store can be part of the solution in many ways. City unemployment stands at more than 11 percent, 17.6 percent of the population in Miami-Dade County experiences food insecurity, and the city is in constant need of new revenue streams. When you strip away all the special interests associated with our site, it’s pretty clear that residents just want a store in their community that treats its employees well, offers the products they need at price they can afford, and gives back to the community via tax revenue and philanthropic support. Our new Walmart store in Midtown will do all that and more.

With regard to food, our store will serve as a new option for residents who want more convenient access to fresh groceries. We’ll feature a full line of groceries as well as a bakery, a delicatessen, a frozen food section, and meat, dairy, and fresh produce sections.

10. How does Walmart feel about all of the backlash when there’s a Target less than a half a mile away? — question submitted by Nathaniel Sandler

Restivo: Walmart and Target co-exist in shopping centers across the country. I think I’d push back a bit on the premise of the question since, unfortunately, some of the louder voices in this discussion don’t represent the majority opinion. We’ve heard from many, many residents who look forward to the quality jobs and low prices our store will bring to Midtown. This fact will be clear when we open our store and thousands of city customers show their support by shopping our store. The bottom line is this: if we open a store in Midtown and no one shops there, we’ll have learned a really important lesson about Miami. We just don’t think that’s going to happen and, quite frankly, our loudest critics don’t think that will happen either.

We recognize that there is a good deal of discussion about our store and over the next few weeks we will continue to engage the city in a conversation to listen, answer questions, and, in some cases, set the record straight. Thanks again for the opportunity to answer your questions.

Related Links

“Grill Walmart: The retail giant is fielding your questions”
“Park may hinder construction of Midtown Walmart”
“Major Midtown landowners clash over Walmart”
“Fox News zeroing in on Midtown Walmart story”
“Despite setback, Walmart to move forward in Midtown”
“Midtown developer asks city to reject Walmart zoning request”
“Opinion: City should reject Walmart zoning request”
“Puerto Rican business group supports Midtown Walmart”
“Midtown Walmart Would Force Art Fairs Out”
“Plans for Midtown Walmart emerge with zoning request”
“Op-ed: Midtown Walmart will hurt job growth, local businesses”

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14 Comments on “Grill Walmart: The retail giant answers your questions”

  1. 1 Ken De Loreto said at 9:59 am on April 10th, 2012:

    No. I just ‘love’ the answer to my question which is not an answer at all. Particularly the statement that Walmart is ‘pretty clear that residents just want a store in their community that…’. Seriously? Pretty clear? Show us your data, because every resident (owners and renters) of Midtown I know strongly believe that a Midtown Walmart is a negative, inappropriate, and potentially property value-lowering idea.

    Walmart, instead of operating from a place of ego and bullying, do the work to move from being ‘pretty clear’ to ‘absolutely certain’ before trying to muscle into a neighborhood that just doesn’t want you. Metaphorically, you’re quickly moving from undesired suitor to delusional stalker.

  2. 2 carlos said at 10:50 am on April 10th, 2012:

    Walmart, continues to point at the high unemployment in miami dade but decides to stay away from greatly affected area and is only focused in midtown an area that is growing with its own local stores and even with big store like target there is no need for a walmart. If they truly want to help unemployment they should look into the area everyone else mentioned that would help unemployment. Like the commenter above stated they are being delusional thinking that their store in midtown is going to help the area. If they want to create a more pedestrian friendly store they should drastically make it small and have no parking.

  3. 3 Ken De Loreto said at 11:05 am on April 10th, 2012:

    I come from the NE and personally know of one town in Massachusetts that has had its charming downtown decimated when Walmart built a huge store on the outskirts. How many of these stories do we need to read? Need research? It’s out there. Here is a 2009 study by Loyola University.

  4. 4 Ant said at 12:38 pm on April 10th, 2012:

    Personally, the store design looks good, and finally, a walmart that is close by. If they stick to the livable neighborhood zoning(Miami 21?), they would be welcome in my book.

  5. 5 Dci247 said at 1:09 pm on April 10th, 2012:

    Ill keep shouting this out change your voting & fl dl to show you do live in the area if we don’t our vote and demo will not be seen. They are using census data form 8 yrs ago!

  6. 6 Dorissa Jeffersons-Sears said at 3:05 pm on April 10th, 2012:

    Can’t wait for opening day! I never liked the Target “alternative” and west of I-95 is too far for me.

    Ken, this charming neighborhood was decimated 30 years ago. It used to be quite vibrant and then the slow decline began around the time they extended the highway through Overtown. A deep recession in the 70s pretty much killed all the mom and pops. As the ghetto hardened, people stopped coming in from Downtown, Miami Beach, Upper Eastside.

    If we limit its resurgence to only what the cloistered people in Midtown want, it will remain a ghost town around a tiny bubble of elitism…and Midtown will simply decline like the Omni did. At this point, another draw can only help the situation.

  7. 7 Kaelsie said at 5:21 pm on April 10th, 2012:

    1. Their renderings show only one corner of the building, the entry of the parking garage and the sides of the building not shown are the ones we are more concerned about. Just because one side of the building is pedestrian friendly, doesnt mean the back isn’t horribly designed and turns it’s back to the neighborhood.

    2. Many of Walmart’s assumptions are WRONG. “Without question, this is not presently a very desirable walk” is completely untrue. I like walking around that chain link fence as it is now because the sidewalk is completely in tact. It hasn’t been taken over by driveways for garages or loading zones for giant trucks. It’s a sidewalk that is great for walking.

    The rest of their answers seem pretty generic and unreassuring.

  8. 8 B said at 7:10 pm on April 10th, 2012:

    JC Penny and Walmart are totally different animals when it comes to traffic impact and quality of jobs for the community. What kool-aid has Restivo been drinking?

    Isn’t it also revealing that Restivo mentions that if nobody shops there, Walmart would have learned a lesson. Never mind what happens to the neighborhood if everybody shops there….

    Walmart doesn’t seem to understand that both of the alternative locations ARE within the City of Miami, would provide the same tax revenue to the City, and are in fact more easily accessible by transit for transit-dependent employees. Given the low pay and meager benefits that those “quality jobs” provide, this should be a consideration.

    Translation of #8 boils down to a single word: No! It’s not required by law, so Walmart isn’t doing it.

  9. 9 Oscario said at 11:40 pm on April 10th, 2012:

    WHY MIDTOWN? Midtown is enjoying the benefits of gentrification. Why not go to 79 St? They do need and want the “help”. MIDTOWN DOESNT!!!!!!

    Please stay away!!

  10. 10 Ken De Loreto said at 9:53 am on April 11th, 2012:

    I hear you, Dorissa, and certainly understand that the surrounding areas need options, stimulation, and help. That is exactly the point. So, why isn’t Walmart seeking to locate at the heart of the issue? Midtown as the target is a business decision on their part, not an altruistic one. They are not in the business of philanthropy. There are location options that are close to downtown, accessible, and are in need of the revitalization. Midtown is not that option. Your point about decimation is one on which we agree. There is too much research out there about how a giant Walmart kills everything around it. So, why move it into an area that has things springing to life? Locate it where it can do good and can not do harm.

  11. 11 Dorissa Jeffersons-Sears said at 6:26 pm on April 11th, 2012:

    Ken, immediately outside of Midtown bubble this area is a slum. Is Walmart going to make it profoundly worse by chasing the Salvation Army out? Seriously doubt that.

    Omni was a very popular mall in its day, but it was not enough to keep the district alive (even with a JC Penney anchor). It was too insulated as Midtown is hoping to remain.

  12. 12 Ileana Pita said at 12:39 pm on April 13th, 2012:

    Why bother to ask questions to Walmart? If they are not wanted then don’t get their hopes up… besides it’s very clear: Walmart’s BIG and BULKY store concentrated in one place is opposite of walk friendly zoning. Does Tribeca or Soho have a big Walmart that occupies a whole block? IT DOES NOT… So unless they break up their stores into tiny ones, then you can start to negociate the other issues.

  13. 13 Leonardo Vallejo-Lozano said at 9:15 pm on April 13th, 2012:

    I do not understand why they want to be in a place like Midtown having many empty land in the city of Miami or empty shopping centers that do not work anymore and no longer attract customers, if we realize at first were going to be between Biscayne Boulevard and 79th St ., then wanted to be too close to the Performing Arts of Miami in the Overtown, now they want at all costs be in midtown, I think the people working in planning and marketing should consult more intelligent choices, so that not affect the community, and let me put you a clear example, Why the city and the county are taking too long to the creation of the public transportation system that will run along the US1 using the railroad tracks, if we are talking about traffic I think the perfect location for the people and the community should be at 79 St along the US1 cause in the future after the new transportation start working on the railroad people gonna find more convenient to ride a train instead driving there cars; and also can you imagine Black Friday at Walmart Midtown, not I don’t think so is a pretty picture.

  14. 14 Lorie said at 8:45 am on April 18th, 2012:

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