Where will you find the largest concentration of Walmart-owned stores? You might think it would be in Arkansas, or maybe in one of the more populous states, but you’d be wrong.
Puerto Rico has the largest number of Walmart-owned stores per square mile in the world.
Walmart claims 56 stores in Puerto Rico, but Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Reporting (CPIPR) got busy with Google Maps and found 65, including Sam’s Club and Walmart-owned Amigos Supermarkets.
Puerto Rico currently has about 3.5 million residents and the population is dropping, but 56 Walmart stores or even 65 Walmart-owned stores isn’t that large a number for a population that size. Iowa has a little more than three million people and they have 67 Walmart stores.
It’s when you look at the square mileage that the number becomes startling. Puerto Rico is 3,435 square miles in size, and Iowa has 55,857 square miles.
Puerto Rico’s government Department of Justice Office of Monopolistic Affairs is not completely happy with this situation. They attempted in 2002 to block the 2004 Amigos purchase, but were unsuccessful. Walmart agreed to keep the Amigos employees and to buy local produce, and the sale went through. In 2005, Puerto Rico eliminated a law which had required drugstores to prove that there was a need for another drugstore before building one. While Walmart is much more than a drugstore, this legal change allowed Walgreen’s to spread across the island (Puerto Rico has the highest concentration of Walgreen’s stores in America), and Walmart kept pace.
The Office of Monopolistic Affairs says that there is no rule against having a lot of stores. Walmart is also the largest private employer in Puerto Rico, providing a number of jobs equal to 25% of the jobs provided by Puerto Rico’s entire tourist industry. Walmart has also given millions of dollars in grants and provided fund-raising support that brings in further millions in funds for Puerto Rican charities.
Nonetheless, the government of Puerto Rico made a list of demands aimed at Walmart a year ago. They wanted to specify a dollar amount of local investment Walmart would be required to provide, a percentage of local sourcing, and some specific labor regulations. There has been no further mention of the demands.
Walmart Puerto Rico suppliers must work within a legacy distribution system which is different from the Walmart USA system — and, suppliers say, more difficult. But Puerto Rico’s strong connection with Walmart may be a plus for U.S. suppliers. Thousands of people are leaving cash-strapped Puerto Rico for the mainland, and they doubtless find Walmart a familiar shopping choice when they arrive.