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.
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.
— “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”