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Wal-Mart Continues L.A. County Expansion With 'Neighborhood Markets' in Bell Gardens, Downey

One labor organization's doomsday scenario for a Wal-Mart invasion of L.A. County is starting to look less and less outlandish.

Late last week, Wal-Mart officials announced plans for two new "neighborhood markets" in the L.A. area: One is set to open in a deserted party-supply store in Downey, and the other in a former furniture store in Bell Gardens.

Neighborhood markets are already plotted for Chinatown, Panorama City and Altadena. So if all goes according to Wal-Mart's plan...

... these two new southeast L.A. County locations would be No. 4 and No. 5.

The downsized "neighborhood market" format is being used by Wal-Mart as a California-friendly, controversy-free way to expand its corporate fleet into higher-density urban areas, where activists and union leaders have long fought the company's growing monopoly and the labor standards that come with it.

Because the markets are much smaller than Wal-Mart's superstores (for example, 31,000 square feet in Bell Gardens, 33,000 square feet in Downey), officials are able to skirt big-box regulations passed by local governments. They can also avoid environmental review and permitting holdups by simply moving into a building that has already housed a similar retailer.

Genius! No matter your feelings toward the Waltons, it's hard to argue against moving a new business into an old, blighted, boarded-up warehouse.

Still, the indefatigable Wal-Mart haters rage on. Thousands of protesters have been rallying outside the Chinatown construction site, trying to convince L.A. City Hall to put a wrench in the store's permitting process. And just one week ago, the Los Angeles Times ran a big story on the struggle in Altadena. From that tale of farmers versus billionaires, a California classic:

"While some residents see cheaper groceries as a boon, others are passionate advocates of organic and sustainable agriculture. They view the retail giant's plan as an anathema threatening Altadena's identity."

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, an advocacy org that has led the local war against Wal-Mart, recently predicted -- based on the company's growth pattern in other urban areas -- that it will eventually try to set up around 212 new locations throughout the county.

Wal-Mart spokesman Stephen Restivo scoffed at the study, telling LA Weekly at the time: "The fact that any national market share we currently enjoy took five decades to achieve is somehow lost on [the report's authors] and shows the depths to which they will sink to try and manipulate reality."

But Aiha Nguyen, map artist and senior policy director at LAANE, points out today that Restivo "only said that they wouldn't do this anytime soon, that this would take a while" -- but never denied that total L.A. saturation is the end goal.

The Bell Gardens market will be located inside the Los Jardines Chopping Center at 6810 Eastern Avenue. Downey's market will sit at 12270 Paramount Boulevard.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rachel Wall says they're both scheduled to open this fall. Anybody mad yet?

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]


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