The disaster that Walmart superstores bring to communities around the country is well documented. But when that disaster suddenly looms in your community, it gets very life-changing. Now a Prince George’s neighborhood is at the center of a legal battle between the county and the Arkansas corporation, to be heard this Friday.
/By Jennifer Dwyer/ In the fall of 2013, Walmart shocked my community with their plans to construct a 24-Hour Supercenter at Duvall Village, a tiny, neighborhood-serving shopping plaza at the intersection of 450 and Glen Dale Rd, only 100 feet from the closest homes. We were totally dismayed. It seemed so obviously, mind-bogglingly inappropriate to us that Walmart would target our peaceful neighborhood for a store of that magnitude—not to mention that our county officials would entertain that plan for even a second.
Our main concern was our safety. Each Walmart store, on average, is the site of 269 criminal incidents per year (or one every 32 ½ hours,) including serious violent crimes, and Walmart had flat-out refused to hire parking lot security or at the very least build a fence separating their mega-store from the closest homes. We were also concerned about a number of environmental factors—additional traffic in an already congested area, a faulty storm water management plan that threatened to flood adjacent properties, shopping carts and litter in our yards, lights and noise filtering into our homes 24/7. Many of us had bought our homes just before the housing bubble burst and were still feeling the effects. The thought of our property values taking yet another hit from a 24-Hour Super Walmart was, sadly, enough to push a few of my neighbors to put their houses on the market and move on.
The economic damage that Walmart causes to surrounding communities is well-documented. For every two people Walmart hires, three others lose their jobs when their employers are forced to reduce their workforces to complete with Walmart or shut down entirely. Walmart touted the 300 jobs they would create for our community, saying, to our astonishment, how convenient it would be for us to be able to walk to work! Per Walmart’s own figures, 50% of their employees make $25,000 a year or less, and many are not eligible for benefits. Can anyone in Prince George’s County support themselves or a family on so little?
Because Walmart refuses to pay a living wage, their employees often have no choice but to seek social services, which costs taxpayers millions — an average Super Walmart in Maryland costs taxpayers an estimated $1.3 million annually. We certainly couldn’t afford to work at Walmart, and we felt that our county tax dollars could be put to better use than making America’s wealthiest family even richer.
For the next two and a half years, members of my community spoke out at six public hearings, protested at the proposed Walmart site and outside the County Administration Building, circulated a petition (eventually garnering close to 1,000 signatures,) held numerous public meetings to spread the word to the thousands of residents who would be affected, sent letters and made phone calls to our Planning Board and every elected official we could think of to demand better for our community… and ultimately, we prevailed!
On September 21st 2015, our County Council, sitting in their land-use capacity as the District Council, voted unanimously to deny Walmart’s application to build at Duvall Village. We were over the moon! Not only had we protected our community from a serious threat to our peace and wellbeing, but we had also proven that our voices do matter! Given our county’s troubled past, so many of our neighbors had given up hope that we could fight for the changes we wanted to see and win, especially when our opposition had essentially unlimited money to fight back with.
Our victory at Duvall Village showed Prince George’s residents that, even when we’re fighting the richest corporation in the world, if enough of us stand together and demand that our elected officials do right by us, our voices are more powerful than even the biggest corporate checkbook.
If we could beat Walmart, we could do anything!
However, one month later, despite being told directly by our County Council that their store would pose a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of residents and workers, Walmart chose to appeal the Council’s decision to the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County and continue to try to force their way into my community. Walmart’s decision to appeal in spite of the County Council’s unanimous vote demonstrates what residents have been saying all along—Walmart has no respect for us, our government, or Prince George’s County as a whole.
My community deserves a better neighbor than a 24-Hour Super Walmart. Taxpayers deserve better than to see their hard-earned dollars squandered on feeding the Waltons’ greed. Local businesses deserve to thrive in our county. Workers deserve an employer who will treat them with respect.
Duvall Village and Prince George’s County deserve better than Walmart.
The Circuit Court for Prince George’s County hears the case Friday, April 22nd, 9 a.m. at the courthouse on Main Street in Upper Marlboro (20772).
For more information and links to all of the studies mentioned above, please visit www.DuvallDeservesBetter.org.