Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Stamp of Disapproval

One of the issues that we haven't mentioned concerning our opposition to the proposed Costco on the West Side: food stamps. The store doesn't accept them, effectively redlining the folks that might be most in need of the putative bargains being offered. Here's what our friend Joel Berg, head of NYC Coalition Against Hunger wrote to us: "One other key point about Costco: their stores refuse to accept food stamp benefits. Given that one in eight New Yorkers use such benefits to survive, Costco seems to be excluding a whole lot of people from their stores."

In fact, when we helped to defeat the store in 1999, the food stamp issue helped to galvanize local community opposition. The NY Times captured this at the time: "But John Fisher, president of the Clinton Special District Coalition and one of the leaders in the anti-Costco campaign, said Mr. Brotman was missing the point. ''He didn't understand New York,'' Mr. Fisher said. ''It's not that people don't want lower prices.'' He said opponents were concerned about the traffic the stores would generate, the impact they would have on smaller stores, the $40 membership fee, the policy against accepting food stamps and Costco's nonunion labor force."

Council member Eric Gioia, one of the leaders of the fight to raise the food stamp allotment for the poor, has even petitioned Costco to change its policies. Here's the item from Berg's Hunger Blog: "City Councilman Eric Gioia recently wrote a letter to the president of Costco, the large discount warehouse retailer, asking the company to start accepting food stamps. After taking the Food Stamp Challenge and living on the average weekly allotment of $28, Gioia is even more sensitive to the fact that poor New Yorkers are unable to eat nutritious, balanced meals on such a meager budget. By getting discount retailers, such as Costco, to accept food stamps, poor New Yorkers will have access to healthy food at more affordable prices."

Costco said that it was considering it, but that was almost one year ago. We also need to remember that BJs, with a no food stamp policy, changed it for its Gateway Mall store in the Bronx in order to cobble the support needed to get the store approved.

One last point here. When the food stamp issue was first raised the last time, we highlighted the comments contained in one of Costco financial filings. The company pointed out to its shareholders that the food stamp policy helped it to reduce "slippage,' implying that by keeping the poor out it advanced the company's bottom line. Nice.