After the war that was waged during its controversial development process, you'd think that the Chinatown Walmart would have emerged, battle-scarred but strong, asserting its dominance over the neighborhood for decades after a hard-fought battle for existence. Turns out, the fight leading up to the opening of Chinatown's Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market went on for almost as long as the actual tenure of the store. After only two years and change, the controversial store closed its doors on January 17 amid worldwide cutbacks, reports KPCC. It's truly a sad day for big box stores everywhere. But in this time of loss, we can at least revisit the nuthouse shitshow that was the Chinatown Walmart Wars.
It all started back in 2012 when it was announced that a 33,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market would be coming to the bottom floor of the Grand Plaza senior housing complex, and neighbors went berserk. Walmart was invading LA, people exclaimed. Sure, Panorama City had already succumbed to the menace, but no one could believe a neighborhood so close to City Hall as Chinatown would be susceptible to the Walmart plague. The Los Angeles City Council tried to stop it, proposing a ban on all chain stores in Chinatown, only to see Walmart swoop in and obtain a building permit just one day before councilmembers unanimously voted on the issue.
The proposed ban had the City Planning Commission miffed, saying the urgency was unfounded and Chinatown should be open to a "diversity of uses." Meanwhile, neighborhood activists filed an appeal of Walmart's building permits, saying they were rushed through to squeak by the City Council's chain store ban. Labor unions tried to get a temporary restraining order to stop construction. There was even an AFL-CIO march down Cesar Chavez Avenue to protest the store's opening. Finally, a group of neighbors straight up sued the city, saying city planners never sought out the public's opinion on the new store.
Walmart was getting it from all sides, but as they often do, they won in the end. The appeal was denied, as was the restraining order. Lawsuits went nowhere, and the neighborhood was ready to embrace low, low prices. And they did, for two short years. The store opened in the summer of 2013, and the skies went black as coal.
To its credit, the Walmart did employ some people, albeit for low wages, and there was some increased foot traffic in the neighborhood. Satit Thuvamontolrat, owner of the liquor store next door, tells KPCC that Walmart's opening boosted alcohol sales some 10 to 20 percent. No word on how much of that spike can be attributed to neighborhood activists drowning their sorrows in defeat.
· Wal-Mart leaves behind LA's Chinatown - and mixed emotions [KPCC]
· Chinatown Walmart Wars [Curbed LA]