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A liberal visits a Walmart and likes it

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."

Ouch. Lower wages mean more workers, which means better service. And Walmart workers are good. Witnessing the staff restock a store in the wee hours is like watching a retailer's ballet of fork lifts, pallets and boxes.

Of course, proper staffing including greeters is just one of the many marketing techniques the world's largest retailer uses. Yglesias noted another.

"It even offers some financial services, like a check-cashing operation where you can get up to $1,000 for a $3 fee," he wrote. "Because a good deal on check cashing is a way to get customers in the door and ready to shop, Walmart can offer a much better rate than a stand-alone storefront check-cashing operation that needs to rely on fees as a profit center."

Walmart understands the needs and the means of its customers.

As pleasant as his Walmart experience was, Yglesias believes that the future is delivering products by drones.

"Paper towels, toilet paper, dish soap, hand soap, laundry detergent, whatever you call the stuff that goes in a dishwasher, dried pasta, canned beans, and basically anything else that won't rot are now scheduled for drop-off on the 22nd of every month," he wrote.

He is the expert in this Amazon thing, but it is difficult to imagine people who have to pay $3 to cash a $1,000 check would have the means necessary to shop online. Amazon is aimed at a different market - for now.

Besides, if Walmart gets too uppity in pricing paper towels and toilet paper, people will buy them from Dollar General and Family Dollar.

Or don't they have them yet in Washington?

Editorial Writer Surber's email is


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