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December 10, 2003

Wal-Mart in the Hood

One of America's first shopping centers has become something I love again for new reasons. Wal-Mart is in the 'hood.

The Crenshaw Shopping Center was built in the art-deco style just before or after WW2. It was the first mall built in America. Although I don't have all the details now, I once did a highschool paper on Crenshaw Boulevard and I'm fairly certain of this. The original anchor tenants were the May Company and the Broadway stores. That one which was the Broadway is now a Wal-Mart. I count this as a great rebirth and notable in the history of this part of Los Angeles where I was raised. It's the most significant change since Magic Johnson opened his first movie theatres here in 1994.

Back in the days, there was a Woolworths and a Lindberg Nutrition at the Crenshaw Plaza. Lindberg's was a massive pink building just north of the May Co with a huge sign that reminded us to 'keep in the pink', and odd saying indeed for this African-American and Japanese-American neighborhood. Although much has changed, just across the street are the legendary wig shops which haven't in over 30 years.

I passed through this mall several days ago during my increasingly seldom visits to the city. Oddly enough, the first thing that struck me was the number of people cruising around the three floors of the joint in mobility devices. It may be a function of the odd locales that I frequent, but I am not accustomed to seeing 7 or 8 such folks in a day let alone in one store within the space of 20 minutes.

Unlike other developments, I get the distinct impression that the appearance of Wal-Mart at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza changes this neighborhood permanently. Anyplace where Sears goes out of business appears to be doomed, and unless and until Wal-Mart comes in, they are. Despite its wealthy enclaves and proximity and affinity to ViewPark and Ladera Heights, Crenshaw has not been the healthiest of commercial neighborhoods since the mid 70s when most of the automobile dealers moved south to Hawthorne Boulevard. The sharpest blow dealt to the district was the development of the Fox Hills Mall around 1977. It began a love-hate relationship with the CRA and Ruth Galanter that people still talk about whenever the question of inner-city development comes up.

This time around things appear to be all to Wal-Mart's and thus global capitalism's good. The LA Urban League's John Mack famously declared he'd rather have the low-wage and low-benefit jobs than no jobs at all. He's not alone in that sentiment, and I'm glad he put it that way.

Posted by mbowen at December 10, 2003 07:15 PM

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"he'd rather have the low-wage and low-benefit jobs than no jobs at all"

Isn't that the goal of Global Capital? Many, at least for some probably unbearable time period, have no choice, do they? One way or another, the Wal-Mart punch card line or the chain gang, they going to make sure you have a job.

Posted by: walter at December 11, 2003 02:36 AM