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Globe Editorial

Open dialogue is crucial as Wal-Mart moves into Boston

July 29, 2011

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THOUGH A Wal-Mart store in Boston could offer residents low-priced goods and welcome jobs, its size, configuration, and the wages and benefits it offers would also have implications for surrounding businesses. That’s why it’s crucial for Wal-Mart, as it seeks to open its first Boston outlet, to sit down with the city and local community groups to craft a proposal that works for residents as well as the retail giant’s bottom line. It’s also crucial that Mayor Menino engage with the country’s leading retailer, instead of continuing to thumb his nose at it.

Especially after welcoming Target, Home Depot, and other big-box stores to town, City Hall owes Wal-Mart a reasonable chance to make its case. At the same time, Wal-Mart also owes the city a plan that’s appropriate to the city, one that includes a store that has a smaller footprint than usual and provides well-paying jobs. Wal-Mart has already showed a willingness to take those concerns into account at stores currently being built in other urban centers, including Washington and Chicago. With appropriate prodding, Wal-Mart could easily offer a similar proposal here.

Yet the mayor seems to be preparing for an epic clash. He’s been bad-mouthing Wal-Mart since the beginning of the year. Last month, he went so far as to use the company’s multimillion-dollar donation to salvage New York City’s summer jobs program for teens as an opportunity to insult it.

Both the city and Wal-Mart should learn from Whole Foods’s bumpy expansion into Jamaica Plain, and pull residents into the planning process sooner rather than later. The organic grocery chain erred in January by not approaching Jamaica Plain residents before announcing its plans. Wal-Mart officials should reach out to residents in the neighborhoods they are considering now, not after they have presented a proposal. Representatives from the corporation already botched their first opportunity to do so, when they pressured the Boston City Council last week to avoid a public hearing about their plans.

Wal-Mart’s ability to move into the city without unnecessary conflict hinges on the company’s and the city’s willingness to foster an open dialogue. At this point, there’s little evidence that will happen.