Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Wal-Mart Eyes New York City

In a story that got lost during the 4th of July holiday, the Daily News reported on Friday that Wal-Mart is continuing to eye the city, with a company-commissioned survey demonstrating New York City's overall support for the mega-retailer:

According to a Wal-Mart commissioned survey, 62.3% of New Yorkers want the discount chain here. The greatest support is in Queens, with 68% of residents wanting a Wal-Mart - even though unions, local businesses and elected officials beat back a planned Wal-Mart in Rego Park this year.

In Brooklyn, supporters number 67% - in the Bronx it's 66% and Staten Island weighs in with the least support - 62%.
The first and most obvious problem with this survey is that it was paid for by Wal-Mart and therefore is incredibly biased. We do not the methodology for this poll including the number of respondents and what types of questions were asked. The response to a question like “Do you support Wal-Mart coming to New York City considering that it will bring hundreds of jobs and millions in tax revenue” will be drastically different than “Do you support Wal-Mart, a company that has broken child labor laws, is being sued for discriminating against women, depends on overseas, sweatshop labor and will increase traffic and crime in your neighborhood?” Considering the high percentage of support, we guess that the types of questions conformed more to the former.

But no matter the question types, we agree that there is support for Wal-Mart in the 5 boroughs. However, there are two major caveats. The first is that though there may be generic support for a theoretical Wal-Mart located in New York City once a specific site is picked the whole dynamic changes. As is true all over the country, but is especially true here, the site defines the fight. A Queens resident, for example, may say he likes Wal-Mart but his enthusiasm will markedly drop if asked, “Do you support a Wal-Mart being build in or near your neighborhood.”

Since New York City’s geography and urban nature will require Wal-Mart to build near residential neighborhoods, we predict that the support its polls demonstrate will drop once specific locations are announced. Already in Staten Island, opposition is percolating especially in the South Shore neighborhoods near the proposed Richmond Valley site.

Also, a lot of support for Wal-Mart in New York City is based on a lack of information. Many people are unaware of Wal-Mart’s business practices, cost to taxpayers and potential negative impacts vis-à-vis traffic, the environment and small business. It is up to the various members of the Wal-Mart Free NYC coalition and other groups to make sure New Yorkers know that there are high costs to Wal-Mart's sometimes lower prices. This campaign is still in its incipient stages but once it takes off people in NYC will not be as amenable to the entrance of Wal-Mart.