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Originally published Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 4:44 PM

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Critics of Bellevue Walmart need to face facts

Those who respond to Walmart opening two stores in Bellevue with cries of "there goes the neighborhood" should be fair.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THOSE opposing Walmart opening two stores in Bellevue ought to shift into building a relationship with the giant discount chain.

The retailer, synonymous with low-priced goods, is making a business decision, one that deserves credit for the potential to breathe fresh life into the darkened storefront at Kelsey Creek Center.

City officials had struggled for a decade to fill the space. Announcement of the chain's arrival quickly attracted other tenants and the building filled up within a month, according to Brian Franklin, executive vice president at PMF Investments, Walmart's landlord at Kelsey Creek.

Walmart brings out strong emotions in people, largely because, as the country's largest grocer, it can have a tremendous effect on retail markets. But critics should square concerns about the chain's impact on local businesses and communities with its evolution as a more responsive company.

In the past, Walmart set up big-box stores that pushed out smaller retail outlets. At Kelsey Creek, Walmart's Neighborhood Market will support local products, such as wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville and gluten-free breads from Zen Bakery. The Factoria store will be much smaller than the average Walmart.

Some don't like the fact that Walmart's employees are not unionized. Some of the chain's competitors, such as Costco, offer better pay and benefits. But Walmart pays an average hourly wage of $12.93 for full-time employees, well above Washington state's minimum wage.

Another criticism needs updated information. Walmart's pay used to be so low that many of its workers have qualified for publicly funded health insurance. But the company improved employee health-care benefits. Amid the recession, Walmart has rolled back some coverage for part-time workers and raised premiums for some full-time staff. Many companies have made similar cost adjustments.

Walmart will not win over everyone. But the retailer's arrival in Bellevue is a key part of revitalizing shopping centers beyond the tony corridors of Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square and The Shops at The Bravern.

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