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Chinatown residents speak out in support of Walmart

Chinatown residents hold signs in support of Walmart.
Shereen Marisol Meraji
Chinatown residents hold signs in support of Walmart.

Walmart wants to put what it calls a "Neighborhood Market" in L.A.'s Chinatown. It’s a much smaller version of a Walmart that mainly sells groceries. Since the announcement was made a month ago, supporters and opponents have been holding dueling press events.

Thursday, supporters gathered on the edge of Chinatown in the empty, dusty retail space below the Grand Plaza apartments for seniors. It's the space Walmart may occupy in the near future and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce's Gary Toebben says that's good news.

"There are vacant buildings all over this city that are waiting for a new tenant," Toebben says, "and we should celebrate when a new tenant steps forward."

Toebben spoke to the news cameras and periodically glanced to his left to acknowledge the dozen or so seniors holding pro-Walmart signs in Chinese, signs that said "We (heart) Walmart" and "We support Walmart providing jobs."

Chu Wei-Yang, 91, runs the senior association in the Grand Plaza building. He said, through an interpreter, that his organization welcomes Walmart, "because we seniors have limited mobility and having a store here means we don't have to go long distances to get food and ordinary stuff."

Two weeks ago, the advocacy group Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy held an anti-Walmart press conference. There, Walmart employees complained about working conditions and said L.A. should not let the retail giant add more stores.

Angie Rodriguez works for Walmart in Baldwin Park and spoke at that event. "Walmart should not be expanding in Chinatown without raising the standards at stores like ours," Rodriguez said, adding, "Walmart is the 21st century slave driver."

George Yu from the Chinatown Business Improvement District said he’s sick of outsiders telling Chinatown what to do. "If you support Walmart, shop here. If you like Walmart, work here. If you don’t, don’t," said Yu. "Do not make Chinatown the battleground. And that, to be quite honest, that’s what pisses me off."

The fight over the proposed Walmart in Chinatown now involves the L.A. City Council. Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents Chinatown, has introduced a motion that would stop new chain stores from moving into the neighborhood. The City Council is set to vote on Reyes' motion this Friday.