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City won’t back a Walmart in Roxbury

Sees it hindering Dudley rebuilding

By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / October 4, 2011

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Boston officials have rebuffed a proposal to build the city’s first Walmart in Roxbury, the opening round of a fight expected to continue in several neighborhoods as the retail giant scouts for locations from Downtown Crossing to Dorchester.

In a recent private meeting with developers, Menino administration officials declined to endorse a plan to open a Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store at the former Bartlett bus yard, a shuttered MBTA maintenance facility near Dudley Square, where food-shopping options are few.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said a Walmart would undercut local businesses, including the nearby Tropical Foods market, whose owners are planning to expand in the neighborhood.

City officials also said they want a mix of retail uses at the 8.5-acre site, such as restaurants, a day-care center, and smaller locally owned shops.

“Dudley Square is a unique and special place in the heart of the city, and we don’t believe Walmart is in keeping with that uniqueness,’’ said the mayor’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce.

The developer of the Bartlett yard property, a partnership of Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation and Windale Developers Inc., said yesterday that it is no longer pursuing a Walmart after neighbors and city officials raised concerns.

Plans for the store were preliminary, but the partnership raised the prospect of opening one of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s grocery outlets in a recent meeting with city officials.

David Price, executive director of Nuestra Comunidad, said the development team will continue to entertain proposals from other grocers and retailers. It is also planning 300 residences on the property.

Wal-Mart has recently intensified its efforts to open stores in Boston, one of the few US cities where the retail giant has yet to establish a presence.

Its executives have said they want to open stores in underserved neighborhoods. The chain has also looked at locations in Dorchester and in the Downtown Crossing shopping district.

Last week, the retailer launched a website,, to provide customers with information and to generate support for its plans.

“We still don’t have any projects to announce in the city of Boston, but we continue to have discussions with brokers, developers, and landlords to make access to our stores more convenient,’’ said a spokesman, Steven Restivo. “We think our stores can be part of the solution for folks who want more affordable groceries in their own neighborhoods.’’

The company has decided to employ more store sizes and formats in an attempt to cater to urban neighborhoods, which is spurring its interest in Boston.

In addition to its 120,000- to 150,000-square-foot supercenters, the chain also operates mid-size grocery stores like the one it wants to open in Roxbury.

It is also testing smaller Walmart Express stores in Arkansas, where it is headquartered, and in Chicago and North Carolina.

The retailer operates 46 Walmart stores and two Sam’s Clubs in Massachusetts. It recently unveiled plans for a 34,000-square-foot grocery store on the edge of the Assembly Square shopping district in Somerville. But that city’s mayor, Joseph Curtatone, has raised questions about the retailer’s labor policies. The chain is a nonunion employer, although it sometimes hires union workers to build its stores.

Wal-Mart, already the nation’s largest grocer, has said it intends during the next year to nearly double - to about 300 - the number of grocery stores it operates nationwide.

A Roxbury store would have offered a new option in a part of the city with few supermarkets or other places to buy fresh food.

But many merchants and neighbors protested after hearing of Wal-Mart’s interest in the neighborhood, raising concerns that the store would hurt locally owned competitors and fail to produce jobs with attractive wages and benefits.

Menino has made redeveloping Dudley Square one of his top priorities. The city built a police station in the neighborhood, launched a project to renovate and expand the public library there, and is moving the school department’s office into the long-vacant Ferdinand Building.

“This is about protecting public investments put into Dudley and building a neighborhood that supports the local businesses that have weathered the tough times,’’ Joyce said.

This is not Wal-Mart’s first battle in an urban area with entrenched opposition. It has faced criticism in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Chicago, and several other cities, but has managed to open stores.

In Chicago, for example, the company spent years fighting labor unions and other groups before breaking into the market in 2006.

The retailer opened its third Chicago location in September, a 27,000-square-foot grocery store, and plans to open several dozen more stores in the next five years.

“Throughout the process, the customer voice is consistent and clear, and unfortunately it’s not demonstrated until a store opens,’’ said Restivo, the company spokesman.

“The truth is, the supporters far outnumber any critics, as evidenced by the number of shoppers at our stores.’’

Casey Ross can be reached at