Monday, August 22, 2005

Wal-Mart on Staten Island

The upcoming fight over Wal-Mart on S.I. has gotten an elegant preview in today's NY Times, courtesy of Steve Greenhouse. Greenhouse's story highlights what we have been emphasizing all along: affection for the store does not necessarily translate into support for the building of the store at any particular location.

This point is underscored in the author's lead interview with one Sandra Como, a Staten Islander who shops at Wal-Mart in New Jersey (three miles away in Woodbridge). According to Como:

If it weren't for the traffic I'd be all for it...But I'd rather come here and not have the extra traffic on Staten Island.
The "Como perspective", we believe, is widespread on the South Shore. The traffic issue, however, is not the only one. As we have outlined in our "conservative case" against Wal-Mart there is a strong impulse in middle class and working class communities to preserve the quality of life in their homeowner neighborhoods.

This impulse, expressed by that Bronx philosopher Artie Felice, goes like this:

If you want a bargain get in your car and drive to the bargain. Never put the bargain in your neighborhood.
The Times lends some piquancy to this notion in its interview with a data entry clerk who, while living on the Island, clearly doesn't live in proximity to the site and is therefore enthusiastic about the possible SI store. South Shore residents will see this for what it is: many North Shore and Brooklyn residents, enthusiastic about Wal-Mart but with no concern for the life in Staten Island neighborhoods, flooding local roads to "drive to the bargain."

Dennis Dell'Angelo, president of one of the area's local civic associations, captures the South Shore point-of-view nicely:

We need this Wal-Mart like a hole in the head because on the South Shore of Staten Island we don't need any more retail whatsoever.
The Alliance feels that there will be a strong neighborhood backlash once the review process for the store begins early next year. This belief is captured in the Alliance's quote which ends the Times article:

The ultimate decision-making will reflect the site battle more than the generalized goodwill that Wal-Mart can create.