News & Politics

DC Chamber Names Walmart Business of the Year

How do you win a corporate award in DC? Complain until you get your way.

Walmart business of the year? Photograph by Ken Wolter/Shutterstock.

What does it take for a business to be honored by the DC Chamber of Commerce? Questionable labor practices and corporate hissy fits appear to be a winning combination.

Walmart, which briefly threatened to leave town last year over an ultimately doomed DC Council bill that would have forced it to pay base wages well above the city-mandated minimum, was named the DC Chamber’s “Business of the Year” last weekend, the chamber says in a press release.

The world’s largest retailer opened the first two of at least five planned stores in the District last year, at First and H streets, Northwest, and on Georgia Avenue in Brightwood, to lots of voyeuristic fanfare. (Turns out the shopping experience at a Walmart sandwiched between apartments and an underground parking garage isn’t much different than that at a Walmart surrounded by a football-field-size parking lot.)

The DC Chamber feted Walmart mostly for hiring 600 workers, 68 percent of whom are District residents, between the two stores, and for making $13 million in donations to local charities. Unmentioned, though, is the July 2013 episode in which the company threatened to cancel its other planned stores after the Council passed a “living wage” bill that would have forced it and other big-box retailers to pay their employees at least $12.50 per hour. Mayor Vince Gray’s veto was ultimately successful, although of the other planned stores, construction has only started on one in a mixed-use project in upper Northwest’s Fort Totten, while two locations planned for Ward 7 remain unbuilt.

But let this be a lesson to other companies seeking to do business in DC: Go into hysterics over legislation, wait for the executive branch to rescue you, and collect your prize a year later.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.