On May 1, 1993, Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the United States, opens its first store in Washington in Omak (population 4,120). The 93,188-square-foot retail center on State Route 97 overlooking the Okanogan River will be quickly followed by stores in Aberdeen, Colville, Moses Lake, and Kennewick. All but about 12 of the 200 Omak employees are hired locally and Wal-Mart becomes Okanogan County's largest employer.
Samuel Moore "Sam" Walton (1918-1992) opened Wal-Mart Discount City in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962 and grew his operation over the next 30 years into the nation's largest retailer. By 1994, his company had 1,735 stores in 42 states plus two in Mexico. His expansion focused on building large discount outlets in small towns and rural areas and he became, during the 1980s, the richest man in America. As Wal-Mart grew, the increased buying clout enabled the chain to cut costs and retail prices.
Small-town retailers feared that Wal-Mart stores would devastate their businesses with the low prices. Some business people learned to compete with the giant by offering personal service and different merchandise. They found that Wal-Mart drew more shoppers into their areas. Omak and Colville saw the Wal-Mart stores draw many Canadian residents into their areas to spend money.
Wal-Mart has been criticized for not offering its employees a living wage, and for offering health insurance that its low-paid employees cannot afford. A group calling itself Wake Up Wal-Mart has charged that 3,180 Wal-Mart employees in Washington are on state-funded health-care plans because they can't afford the company's plan and premiums. Wal-Mart has countered by saying that it offers a competitive wage, with its average full-time employee making $10.11 per hour.
In 2007, Wal-Mart employed more than 17,000 people in Washington in 47 stores and two distribution centers.