In addition to its callous displacement of the Bronx Terminal Market merchants, we have been critical of Related’s Gateway Mall proposal because one of its tenants will be BJ’s Wholesale Club. In terms of labor practices and its position of unions, BJ’s is exactly like Wal-Mart but we have also been critical of the big box for its inaccessibility to the poor. Because the club store has a $45 membership fee, does not take food stamps/WIC and is auto-dependent, very few Bronxites who live in the surrounding area will be able experience the bulk bargains of a BJ’s. They will, however, have full access to the fumes of the thousands of additional cars and trucks coming to their neighborhood, a part of the infamous Asthma Alley.
To fully understand how BJ’s is effectively redlining district 4 – the host community of the Gateway Mall – it’s necessary to examine some statistics. According to the community profile for the district, the 54% Hispanic, 41% African American neighborhood has 80,340 people on public assistance as of 2004. That is a whopping 57.6 percent of the population that requires some form of government aid – food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid – just to get by. Of those 80,000 or so residents who rely on taxpayer support, approximately 40,000 get food stamps, the second highest number of recipients per district in the entire city. District 4 also has a median income of only $21,275 which contributes to 40% of its population being below the poverty line.
So while certain BJ’s boosters claim that the store will be a boon for the poor mother with 3 children, the reality is quite different. The neediest in the South Bronx will be unable to access the wholesale club and, making matters worse, this indirectly subsidized store (the development is the mother of sweetheart deals) will put other, food stamp-accepting supermarkets at risk. If City Council is truly interested in making sure its poor have access both to food stamps and businesses that accept them, it will not permit Related to shoehorn a BJ’s into its Gateway development.