Two California cities have adopted ordinances that prohibit “supercenters”—massive 200,000-square-foot stores operated by Wal-Mart, Target, and Kmart that combine general merchandise with a full supermarket and numerous specialty services like florists and gas stations.
In October, the Inglewood City Council voted 4-1 to bar stores over 155,000 square feet that sell more than 20,000 nontaxable items, such as food and pharmacy products. Inglewood has a population of 113,000 and is located in Los Angeles County. The ordinance specifically targets supercenters and would not impede the construction of large stores that do not sell groceries.
The city of Martinez passed a similar ordinance in September. That law prohibits stores over 90,000 square feet that devote more than five percent of their floor space to groceries. Dozens of people attended the city council meeting and spoke in favor of the ordinance, describing it as a way of preserving neighborhood retail. Martinez is a community of 36,000 people located about 35 miles from San Francisco.
The two ordinances were initiated by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents grocery workers. UFCW locals throughout California have launched campaigns to block Wal-Mart, which says it plans to open 40 supercenters in the state over the next few years. Wal-Mart is non-union. Its employees earn an average of $3 per hour less than UFCW members, who also receive healthcare and pension benefits. Several of California’s unionized supermarkets are already pressing for wage cuts in expectation of competition from Wal-Mart.