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Wal-Mart store opposed at Roxbury meeting

Residents fear impact on local businesses, bias

Attendees at a meeting at the Dudley Street Branch of the Boston Public Library last night heard several groups warn against opening a Wal-Mart store in Roxbury. Attendees at a meeting at the Dudley Street Branch of the Boston Public Library last night heard several groups warn against opening a Wal-Mart store in Roxbury. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Miriam Valverde
Globe Correspondent / September 23, 2011

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The possible opening of a Wal-Mart store in Roxbury drew strong opposition from residents and community leaders at a meeting last night, who said the company is not welcome in their neighborhood.

“Our community is under siege,’’ said Jamarhl Crawford, publisher and editor of Blackstonian, a newspaper catering to communities of color in Boston.

Crawford, one of the panelists at the community forum held last night at the Dudley Branch Library, said Roxbury was in a fragile state and that the opening of a Wal-Mart store would negatively affect local businesses. He said he feared the possibilities of discrimination, dead-end jobs, and a lack of benefits from the company.

Each of the panelists represented a different community organization. The meeting was hosted by the We Want Good Jobs Coalition, which includes more than a dozen social justice and economic development organizations.

No representative from Wal-Mart, the Arkansas-based retailer, was present at the meeting, which was attended by about 100 people. Russ Davis, executive director of Jobs with Justice and one of the organizers of the gathering, said the company had been invited.

“While we still do not have any announced projects in the city of Boston, we think our stores can be part of the solution for folks that need a job or want more affordable grocery options in their neighborhood,’’ said Steven V. Restivo, Wal-Mart senior director of community affairs, in an e-mail to the Globe last night.

He said the company believes residents should have the option to choose where they work and shop.

“Unfortunately, some of the louder voices in this debate don’t represent the majority opinion,’’ Restivo said. “This fact is made clear every time we open a new store as thousands of local residents - none of whom went to a rally, attended a council meeting, or called a radio show - show their support by shopping our store.’’

According to the company’s website, as of June 2011 there are 11 supercenters and 36 Wal-Mart discount stores in Massachusetts. There are also two Sam’s Club membership warehouse stores operated by the company.

Tito Jackson, the city councilor representing Roxbury, said at the forum that he stands in solidarity with residents against Wal-Mart.

“Wal-Mart has not come and spoken to my office,’’ Jackson said. “And I think that’s very problematic.’’

Jackson said he was worried that Wal-Mart was trying to “jump on board’’ as public funds were becoming available in the city.

Some of those attending the meeting last night said they were very concerned with the possibility of a Wal-Mart opening in their neighborhood but want to hear from company representatives before they take a position.

“I’m kind of conflicted because I don’t understand how people can be against jobs coming into the neighborhood. Any job is better than no job,’’ Lionel Rogers, 49, of Roxbury said. “There are other low-paying companies out there. Why aren’t folks rallying against them?’’

Some of the panelists speaking against Wal-Mart said the company offers low wages and that residents have high standards that demand better paying jobs.

Najee-ullah Hasan, 66, of Roxbury, said he wants to hear from Wal-Mart, because “there must be some benefits to having them in the community.’’

Organizers said they plan on hosting more meetings in order to figure out the fate of the neighborhood.

Miriam Valverde can be reached at mvalverde@globe.com.


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