A hotly contested Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market had its soft opening Friday in Chinatown, where it was met by some of the protesters who have fought its arrival for more than a year.
The store, located on the ground floor of the Grand Plaza building at Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard and Grand Avenue, is Wal-Mart’s seventh outpost in Los Angeles and its first location downtown.
The 34,000-square-foot market is a fifth the size of a standard Wal-Mart super-center and is meant to serve the Chinatown, downtown, Bunker Hill and Echo Park neighborhoods, according to the Bentonville, Ark., retail giant.
The store opens in a space that Wal-Mart said has been vacant for more than two decades. The rest of the building includes senior housing, offices and other stores. The company added that new businesses have opened in empty retail spaces nearby in anticipation.
The Neighborhood Market will be open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and employ 65 workers. Offerings include fresh produce in the grocery section, a self-serve bakery and a full-service pharmacy across a walkway from the main store.
The store will also be the first in the chain to sell tortilla strips and salsa from local nonprofit group Homeboy Industries.
[Updated, Sept. 13, 2:20 p.m.: Steve Restivo, Wal-Mart's senior director of community affairs, said shoppers were sending "a message that they want more affordable grocery options in their neighborhood."
"The community response is clear and we look forward to serving residents here for years and years to come," he said.]
On Friday, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, or LAANE, said dozens of protesters congregated outside the market toting papier-mache puppets designed to look like the ghosts of local small businesses.
Opponents of the Wal-Mart opening said the new store will threaten the livelihoods of the hundreds of small businesses and dozens of markets they say operate in Chinatown.
“Unfortunately, Wal-Mart bullied its way into Chinatown, but the community response against this store is the same across the nation: no to Wal-Mart and low-road retailers’ business as usual,” said Aiha Nguyen, director of the Grocery & Retail Project for LAANE.
In April, after construction had already begun, LAANE joined with several other labor groups to file a lawsuit attempting to block the store launch. They alleged that the board of the city’s Community Devlepment Agency did not review the project before building permits were awarded.
A public hearing is still pending, according to LAANE, which said the next trial hearing is scheduled for April.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles police arrested 21 protesters participating in a rally and march downtown near the store. The group was arguing for better wages and improved working conditions at Wal-Mart.
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