Four days before “the largest anti-Walmart demonstration in history” at the chain's Chinatown construction site (union leaders say they expect a turnout of 10,000), Wal-Mart is holding something of a celebratory counter-protest at the same location.

The “construction kick-off” at 1 p.m. today is like a groundbreaking, says Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rachel Wall — except “you can't exactly call it a groundbreaking, because it's a vacant building.”

And that's really the heart of the Chinatown Walmart pitch:

How could anything, even a non-unionized hunk of the Waltons' corporate empire, be worse than an empty building that's blighting the Chinatown community?

At today's event, the expert Wal-Mart PR team is driving the point home with a local, cultural touch. Best press release to hit our inbox since the Abbey banned bachelorette parties:

“The Chinatown community will celebrate construction activities on the new Walmart Neighborhood Market in downtown Los Angeles. The festivities will include a traditional Lion Dance to ward off bad luck from two decades of vacancy, and invite good luck and prosperity for the residents and community.”

Wall says on the phone that Wal-Mart came up with the idea “in consultation with community leaders who we've been in communication with,” including the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles.

“There was a sense that the building has been vacant for so long that it was bad luck,” she explains.

View Larger Map

So, in order to keep construction workers safe and “bless the residents that live above the store,” a group of expert Lion Dancers from the East Wind Youth Foundation will lead one such ceremony at today's event.

Wow. As we reported yesterday, Wal-Mart has been paying big money to PR firms as part of its revived effort to invade the untapped L.A. market. Sometimes those firms go too far, as did Stephanie Harnett from Mercury Public Affairs. But we've got to admit — this Lion Dance deal is wicked smart.

After the dance, an expected crowd of about 100 will be invited to “come take a look inside the space,” says Wall. There will be display boards up with project plans, as well as visuals of existing Walmart Neighborhood Markets.

For more on those crafty little grocery versions of Wal-Mart's supercenters, see “Wal-Mart Plans to Sneak 15 New Stores Into SoCal, Including Burbank, via Permit Loophole.”

LA Weekly