Monday, June 25, 2007

Is Wal-Mart Kosher?

In today's NY Times, the paper has a front page story in the Metro Section that focuses in on the growing opposition to Wal-Mart in the Orthodox Jewish community of Monsey. As the story points out, the Alliance has been "the small business advocacy group...that has helped organize Monsey's anti-Wal-Mart movement..." And two years since the giant retailer has unveiled its plan, "opposition persists."

What the Times story highlights is the fact that the normal reasons for opposing the Walmonster are also present in the Monsey situation-traffic, crime, harm to small business, and anti-labor policies. What makes the Monsey situation somewhat unique is the way these issues are filtered through a religious prism.

Monsey's religious residents are concerned that the giant store will undermine their community's quality of life-a walk-to-shop environment that is characterized by strong religious sentiments. As Yossi Weinberger told the Times, "The reason a lot of us came to Monsey is because we wanted to raise our families ia a safe place, away from the influences of the outside world..."

The Times also points out that a single elderly resident (our beloved Mrs. Marshansky), moved by the threat of Wal-Mart, gathered a thousand petitions against the store in only four days; "Around the same time, religious school administrators distributed fliers to students and their parents under the headline 'Be Aware.'" The paper goes on to point out that articles and advertisements against Wal-Mart have been running in the local Jewish press.

It is also important to point out that one of the Alliance's staunchest allies, Joseph Kizelnick, is featured on the front picture and represents the vibrant local retail economy that will be threatened with extinction should Wal-Mart's effort to build a super center in Monsey be successful. As Kizelnick told the Times, "...if we get together as a group, as a community, we can win this battle."

And it is beginning to look like it just might be possible to do just that. The traffic analysis of the Alliance's Brian Ketcham, work that predicts that the store would add 16,000 additional vehicles on the average weekday, is beginning to sink in with the town of Ramapo. Supervisor St. Lawrence's comments to the Times illustrate this point: "My concern is with traffic, and for a regional store like the one being proposed, we need a regional solution, and that's not something you can solve with a few stoplights."

This is as close as St. Lawrence has come to indicate that the town may be moving to vote down the proposed super center. The voting strength of the Orthodox community is noted: "The community is considered a powerful voting bloc, so in an election year, officials have been careful not to alienate its members" (St. Lawrence is up for re-election this year).

It should be noted, however, that the African-American mayor of Spring Valley also opposes Wal-Mart, as does the Working Families Party and the locals of the UFCW. This is a large coalition against the Walmonster and we're hopeful that the electeds of the Town of Ramapo will recognize this and do the right thing: send Wal-Mart packing.