Tuesday, October 18, 2005

You Get What You Pay For

We mentioned a few months ago that Wal-Mart had conducted a survey demonstrating that 61% of Staten Islands wanted the retailer on the Island. At the time, we said that the report was obviously biased, Staten Islanders had yet to be satisfactorily educated about Wal-Mart and that the unwavering opposition from communities adjacent to the proposed site would outweigh the general approbation of those who wouldn’t have to deal with traffic and quality of life impacts.

Our original claim of bias was based on the fact that Wal-Mart had paid for the poll but now that we’ve received a copy of the survey all we can say is that the word “bias” isn’t strong enough. The questions asked to Staten Islands are so skewed that we’re honestly surprised only 61% of Staten islanders said "Yes" to the store.

The Wal-Mart portion of interview script begins with:
There is a site in the Tottenville Section of the South Shore that would be suitable for a major retail development, such as a Wal-Mart store. I am going to mention some of the advantages of such a project, if it were to go forward. For each one, please tell me if it is very important, fairly important, only somewhat important, or not very important advantage.
First, the question of whether this site is suitable for major retail development is questionable. The parcel requires considerable cleanup, is situated over wetlands and is accessed by local, narrow roads. Second and more importantly, of course Wal-Mart is going to get favorable results from this survey when it only mentions the putative benefits of the mega-box store. Looking at some of the actual “advantages” further confirms this:

43. The project would create about 350 permanent new jobs that would pay more than 10 dollars an hour, and provide good health benefits to both full and part time employees.

46. The project site is next to a Staten Island Railroad stop, which would provide easy access for customers and employees.

48. The project would bring Wal-Mart to Staten Island, making it easier for customers who currently drive to New Jersey to shop at a Wal-Mart

49. Traffic studies show that the area around the store can easily handle increased automobile traffic, and the site has ample room for parking
Could the questions get any more ridiculous? Job creation is mentioned without discussing possible job loss from closing supermarkets and small businesses. The Staten Island Railroad stop is crumbling, may be torn down and won’t be used by any Wal-Mart shopper in this already car-dependent borough (plus who is going to lug hundreds of dollars of goods on the SIR anyway?). In terms of saving time, it will still be just as easy, if not easier, for people to shop at the Wal-Mart in Edison, NJ, only a few miles over the Outer Bridge. And lastly, if Wal-Mart thinks that the proposed site can easily handle automobile traffic, we’d like to know what and how much of it they’re smoking. An initial analysis that we’ve commissioned (it’ll be uploaded when complete) conclusively demonstrates that a proposed Wal-Mart, coupled with the soon-to-be-completed 680,000 sq. ft. Bricktown Mall up the road, will prove be a traffic nightmare for Tottenville and the surrounding communities.

So the next time you see a Wal-Mart-sponsored poll demonstrating New York’s supposed love for the retailer, remember that the behemoth from Bentonville is expecting to get the results it pays for.