THEY were there just after daybreak Monday, a line snaking down the sidewalk in Northeast Washington. And they kept coming, by the hundreds.
"Is this the line for Wal-Mart jobs?" asked Stephon Holly, 18, who arrived interview-ready. His wingtips were polished, his cardigan buttoned.
He had a black portfolio packed with copies of his resume and talking points written on the legal pad to help him through a face-to-face.
But it never happened.
Wal-Mart reps were standing on the sidewalk, handing out fliers instructing the job seekers to apply online. They took names at the hiring centers they opened at 9 a.m. but offered nothing more.
Want to see the District's economic problems laid bare? Spend a few minutes at one of two Wal-Mart hiring centers. A new surge of applicants arrived every 30 minutes.
"The D4 bus just stopped," one of the folks there observed.
Sure enough, about a dozen hopefuls approached from that bus stop, headed to the future Wal-Mart store behind Union Station, shirts pressed, hair done, kids in strollers, thrilled by the prospect of a job.
Cars pulled up and three people climbed out to join the line. Many families came with two generations of applicants.
All of them said they want to stay in the city of their birth. But few of them can afford it anymore.
By the end of the day, there were hundreds and maybe even a thousand applicants for about 350 low-wage jobs that the small-scale, 75,000-square-foot urban Wal-Mart will bring to Northeast.
The same scene played out on Georgia Avenue NW, where another of the six Wal-Marts planned for the District is beginning to hire.
This is the point Wal-Mart was making, of course, when it threatened to pull out of the city this summer when the D.C. Council passed a living-wage bill. The legislation would have forced Wal-Mart and eventually other big-box stores to pay $12.50 an hour, higher than the District's current minimum wage of $8.25.
Mayor Vincent Gray, D, vetoed the bill, saying the jobs and economic development were too important to risk.
"If they pay $8.25, $8.75, whatever. A job is a job and I need a job," said Ronald Knight, 52, who has been unemployed since he left a job at a grocery deli counter to take care of his dying mother. "All I want is to work, and I'll take anything."