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Manager Jeremy Winn leads employees in the Walmart cheer. (KUOW Photo/Amy Radil)

Manager Jeremy Winn leads employees in the Walmart cheer. (KUOW Photo/Amy Radil)


Walmart Comes To Bellevue's 'Little Detroit'

Amy Radil

Walmart plans the grand opening for its first store in Bellevue this Friday. It's the company's first "neighborhood market" in the state of Washington.

Company officials say they've had to create smaller, more flexible stores as they expand in urban areas. But not everyone is glad to see them moving in.


If you hear shouting while driving past Bellevue's Kelsey Creek shopping center this week, it might be coming from the new Walmart. The employees have been practicing the company cheer:

Winn: "Give me a W! A! L! ... "

The store will open this Friday. It's one of five new stores Walmart has planned in the Puget Sound region. Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo says the format of the store is what they call a neighborhood market.

Restivo: "It's a smaller store. This store in particular is about a third of the size of a typical super–center."

The focus is on groceries and other general merchandise. If customers want sofas, grills or flat–screen TVs, they need to order them online and pick them up at the store when they come. Walmart is piloting an even smaller store, known as a Walmart Express. But Restivo says they are by no means abandoning the big–box format.

Restivo: "It's important to note that our preference is still to open a larger store when and if we can."

Restivo says Walmart has created these smaller formats as it expands into new urban areas. They allow Walmart to move into vacant storefronts, which involves fewer regulatory issues than breaking ground on a new store. In Bellevue's Kelsey Creek shopping center, the Walmart will take over a space that has been empty for over 10 years, since a Kmart closed.

Brian Franklin is with the building's landlord, PMF Investments. He says at one point the area was known as Little Detroit. It was only partly tongue–in–cheek.

Franklin: "There was an increase in crime, frankly, around the shopping center. A lot of graffiti, a lot of vandalism."

Walmart's Steve Restivo says one feature they look for in siting a new store is a lack of other grocers in the neighborhood.

Restivo: "Our real estate selection process is really centered on communities that are either underserved in terms of jobs and access to fresh food or quite frankly, badly served."

But critics who have held anti–Walmart demonstrations at the store say Bellevue does not fit that definition.

Elena Perez heads the local chapter of Making Change at Walmart. It's a coalition supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Perez: "If you're familiar with the Kelsey Creek development, it's surrounded by grocery stores. There's a Safeway, a QFC, a Fred Meyer, a Top Foods — really all they're doing is they're taking sales from existing grocery stores."

Perez says competition from Walmart will hurt unionized stores that pay their employees better.

Full–time Walmart employees make an average wage of $12.93 an hour and qualify for health coverage after six months. Union officials say Fred Meyer employees, for example, average $14 an hour, plus health and retirement benefits. Perez says she supported a proposal for an Asian grocery store in that space because it would have filled a different need, rather than competing head–on.

Meanwhile, Walmart officials have expressed interest in opening a Seattle store.

A recent flyer distributed by Seattle Public Schools contained the Walmart logo alongside that of the Seattle Human Service Department. Walmart has donated $225,000 to help the city provide free meals for school kids this summer. The company gave over $15 million to Washington charities last year.

I'm Amy Radil, KUOW News.

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