MATTHEW Yglesias of the Slate online magazine did some shoe-leather journalism by visiting one of the two stores that the city fathers finally allowed Walmart to build in Washington, D.C.
Ygelsias had previously visited Walmart stores in Maine and North Carolina, so he was familiar with the territory. But the liberal did admit his surprise that a chain of rural and suburban stores worked in the city.
Union pressure and liberal bias have pushed officials in big cities to use zoning and permitting rules to keep Walmart out, he wrote.
"The United Food and Commercial Workers are at the center of the labor alliance against Walmart, and it's no coincidence," Yglesias wrote. "UFCW represents workers at the region's Safeway and Giant supermarkets, and the Walmart grocery shopping experience is like what they offer - only much, much better."
Yglesias concentrated on the grocery section of the store ("It's a decidedly downscale shopping experience") and discovered that along with Hamburger Helper and boxes of macaroni and cheese, Walmart in D.C. offers at least one delicacy.
"The only real selling point for foodies is the availability of beef tongue, prominently labeled as lengua de vaca and clearly marketed more at Latin American immigrants than gentrifying taco lovers," he wrote.
Ah, the only Harvard man in the room finally understood that what is a delicacy to his crowd is chow to the people who do the jobs college graduates won't do.
But Yglesias also understood - and appreciated - how Sam Walton created a business model that made non-union wages a key to its success, both on the bottom line and in customer service.
"Most damningly, the store is well-staffed with friendly and helpful people who make the Safeway experience seem like shopping in a Russian customs line," Yglesias wrote.
"The (I assume) lower pay lets Walmart hire more people. And however meager the wages may be, they were high enough that 23,000 people applied for 600 positions at the stores, meaning the people who got picked are probably pretty good at their jobs."