BOULDER—In recent years, officials have highlighted Diagonal Plaza as un underperforming shopping center that hasn't delivered the level of sales tax revenues they have come to expect.
Now that there is a tenant spiffing up the space that PetSmart and Ross used to occupy, there is a campaign to keep shoppers out of the plaza or, to be exact, out of any store that Wal-Mart might operate there. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer is loudly rumored to be the tenant taking over the nearly 52,000-square-foot space for one of its rapidly spreading Neighborhood Markets grocery stores.
Building permits filed with the city of Boulder do not name the new tenant, but the remodeling of the old PetSmart and Ross stores is consistent with the Neighborhood Market color scheme and design.
“All the signs point to it being Wal-Mart,” said Mark Belkin, organizing director for United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 7, which is opposing the project and helping stage protests.
Neighborhood Markets are popping up in Colorado and across the country. They are typically about a quarter the size of Wal-Mart's well-known Supercenters and they target budget-minded grocery shoppers.
If one of the stores is indeed coming to Boulder, it would add to an increasingly crowded market for grocery stores. There is a Trader Joe's that will open in the old Applebees spot in the Twenty Ninth Street Mall next year, an Alfafa's, a Delilah's Pretty Good Grocery, three King Soopers, a Lolita's Market and Deli, three Safeways, two Sprouts Farmers Markets, a Lucky's Market, a University Hill Market & Deli, a Vitamin College, three Whole Foods plus other stores like Target and PDQ that also sell groceries.
While the news that Trader Joe's is coming to Boulder has been met with mostly positive reactions, the opposite is true of Wal-Mart in a town that prides itself on being sustainable and socially conscious. Opponents to the store have been staging protest marches on Pearl Street, even braving a snowstorm two Saturdays ago. Protestors say Wal-Mart doesn't pay its employees well enough, nor treat them nicely, citing its store openings on Thanksgiving night to get ahead of the ballyhooed Black Friday.
“Wal-Mart is a drain on the economy,” Belkin said, noting that many of its workers are paid poverty wages while its executives rake in millions. “It's a net loss to the community so we're hoping there will be some City Council members and leaders who will have the courage to take a stand.”
Messages left with Wal-Mart last week were not returned.
A decade ago, the retailer eyed the Diagonal Plaza for one of its “big-box” stores but Boulder officials put a stop to it. Now it appears Wal-Mart has figured out a way to operate there anyway.
The reviews aren't all bad.
Letters to the editor have been filling the local newspapers offering perspectives on both sides of the matter. Those in favor of Wal-Mart's potential entrance into Boulder say they enjoy the retailer's cheap prices, and say it saves them a trip to Broomfield or Lafayette, where there are other Wal-Mart stores.
“A Walmart in Boulder will save me a fortune, not only the cost of their products but what I'll save in gas,” Ellen Godoy of Nederland wrote in a letter to the Daily Camera. "I do little shopping in Boulder. I go right through to either Longmont or Louisville. If you don't like Walmart, don't shop there, continue to go to the store you have been. No one will force you to shop there.”