There's a lot not to like about Walmart. Its stores are frequently unattractive and cluttered. They have a reputation for low wages and stingy benefits. They are no friend to unions. Wherever they go, they have a tendency to crowd out the competition, undercutting small mom-and-pop stores with their "everyday low prices."
Nevertheless, the proposed development in Remington known as 25th Street Station, whose most prominent feature will be Baltimore's second Walmart store, has more advantages than disadvantages to the center city. The Baltimore planning commission should approve the project at its meeting tonight.
25th Street Station would provide employment and shopping opportunities that are in short supply in Remington and several of its surrounding neighborhoods. Not only Walmart but a Lowe's home-improvement store, as well as a number of smaller shops, would be included in the project..
If executed correctly, this project could stop what is now a fact of life for many center city residents: the trek to the suburbs to shop. Small business in the affected neighborhoods can thrive by continuing to offer what these big box operations can't—personal service. Neighborhood residents who, for example, treasure the local hardware store, should be willing to pay a little extra for good service. The cheapest is not always the best.
We do wonder if this project is going to be a good neighbor. Life in the crowded center city is different from the sprawling suburbs. Your neighbors are close by. Aesthetics matter. The architecture of this project should blend in with neighborhood, not as some earlier proposals show, wall it off from the street. The 11.5 acre site near Howard and 25th streets, currently home to an Anderson Automotive car dealership, is not gorgeous. But making it look like a big box store from the suburbs would be a mistake. City agencies reviewing the project should keep this, and the neighborhood's concerns about noise and traffic, in mind as the project goes forward.
If there were a lot of outstanding alternatives for the proposed 25th Street Station site, we might look upon the Walmart plan with a more critical eye. But the fact is, the neighborhood desperately needs development and jobs, and Walmart and Lowe's have stepped up to the plate. If they want to be welcome in their new neighborhood, they should honor its architecture and customs.