Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Wal-Mart Set To Open To Cheers, Criticism
January 26, 2005
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer

Wal-Mart is opening a new store today Hartford. That much everybody agrees on.

It's located on the site of the former Charter Oak Terrace housing project, and when doors open for business at 7:30 a.m., at least some of the 350 employees inside will be erstwhile tenants of that dangerous complex.

But as with the opening of many Wal-Mart stores, there is dissension: is the new business an important job opportunity for Hartford residents, a great place to buy lawn furniture, or a corporation that cuts costs at the expense of its employees?

The answer will depend whether you're standing inside or outside the store come dawn.

Inside, there'll be employees like Codi Davis, 20, who is grateful for his full-time job as a stocker in the new store. He grew up in Hartford, attended high school in Farmington and says it has been tough finding work. Wal-Mart couldn't have come along soon enough, he said Tuesday, as his mom, Carolyn, stood by him, proud.

"The opening of this Wal-Mart is helping me get started on my goals, being financially secure, getting a house, taking care of my family," Davis said.

Outside the store, the view is different. There, by the entrance, members of the Connecticut Working Families plan to be peacefully protesting what they claim are Wal-Mart's inadequate employee benefits. They will do that by holding a bake sale, selling brownies to raise money for Wal-Mart employees to buy health coverage.

"My health care was really crappy," said Jennifer Berberena, 19, who until last week was a cashier at the Rocky Hill Wal-Mart. "I was paying $97.50 biweekly for health care and it was just for me."

"The workers have very, very expensive co-insurance and co-pay," said Jon Green, executive director of Connecticut Working Families. "It's a challenge for folks who are making eight bucks an hour."

Green's group, a coalition of unions and advocates for the working class, will distribute fliers to employees and sympathetic customers as they enter the store.

Their efforts are being backed by the city, which last month passed an unusual ordinance that allows for demonstrations, protests or any other exercise of free speech on the outskirts of the Wal-Mart.

The ordinance makes protesting and union organizing outside large retail stores legal - a big deal for a store like Wal-Mart, which is well-known for its opposition to unions. So long as the demonstrators alert the city police department and fill out the requisite form, they are free to promote their message without fear of being handcuffed or shooed off the property.

Though Wal-Mart lawyers have vowed to challenge the ordinance, Davis said it won't affect work life inside.

"Regardless of what they say, it's already here, it's done," he said. `They can't stop what's already in motion."

Eddie Simmons, the store manager, preferred Tuesday to talk about what would be going on inside the Hartford store. With 155,000 square feet, it is the largest among the chain's Connecticut stores that do not have full-fledged supermarkets inside, he said.

"I think I walk about 10 to 15 miles a day in here," Simmons said, as he made final rounds of the garden center, the vision center, the pharmacy, the auto shop and the nail salon, all located inside the store.

The store also has a semblance of a supermarket, with its aisles and aisles of nonperishable and frozen foods - everything except fresh produce, meat and a bake shop.

Simmons and regional mangers hosted an in-house celebration Tuesday night, marking the birth of store number 5,095.

Store employees - Wal-Mart prefers to call them "associates" - brought their families to the party, taking them on tour of the aisles they stocked and the floors they mopped to get the store ready.

That's why Codi Davis' mom was there.

"Our little secret is that this may be his only job," Carolyn Davis said. "He may stay here forever. He's going to own his own store someday."

"Maybe this one," Codi said. "Why not? It's in my hometown."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?