New Regs Could Have D.C.’s Big-Box Stores Embracing Urban Storefronts
The Equity Factor

New Regs Could Have D.C.’s Big-Box Stores Embracing Urban Storefronts

Washington, D.C.’s new Large Retailer Accountability act might usher in smaller retail spaces for big-box stores.

A Walmart in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fernando Stankuns on Flickr

Washington, D.C. lawmakers approved a new budget on Wednesday that cuts sales tax in the traditionally high-tax District. And, in a move that will make fringe bloggers who rail on corporate America happy, they’ve introduced regulations that will require some big-box stores to pay what they’re calling a “super minimum wage.”

The new rates, at just below 6 percent, go into effect on October 1 and are expected to reduce city revenue by $19.8 million, according to the Washington Post.

The Large Retailer Accountability Act, meanwhile, will require non-union big-box stores like Walmart and Target to pay employees a living wage of no less than $12.50 an hour, a good $4.25 more than D.C.’s minimum wage of $8.25. The regulations only apply to stores with spaces of 75,000 square feet or more.

This could affect the way big-box stores do business in D.C. Walmart announced plans to open shop in the District back in 2010. At first intending to unveil four different stores within city limits, the retailer upped that number to six the following year, possibly due to the fact that it faced pretty much no opposition from local city council members.

Walmart does, however, face opposition from community groups such as Keep DC Walmart Free. Many of the objections are typical of anti-Walmart sentiment the world over: The company has a tricky history with wages, unions and women. Another point of contention? Walmart’s typically outsized, suburban-style store model doesn’t jive with a city like D.C. — which, as everyone knows, has become something of a case study in the nation’s urban renaissance.

But the District’s “super minimum wage” mandate could very well encourage major retailers to scale down to something more, well, urban. I don’t think you’re going to see Target cookware boutiques popping up in Georgetown, but it wouldn’t surprise me if, given the opportunity, big retailers might opt for smaller stores to avoid the new regulations. They’ll adjust, find out what customers want and stock the shelves accordingly. I don’t see any reason why Nike or Target can’t do business in a 70,000-square-foot storefront. The companies will save a significant amount of money on wages and might not see a decrease in sales.

D.C.’s fist Walmart could open as soon as November 1. Observers are calling it the “most urban” of the six.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.

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Tags: economic developmentwashington dcequity factorretail

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