Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Wal-Mart is Coming, the Wal-Mart is Coming

Crain's runs its yearly, Wal-Mart is looking at NYC article-hoping that the wish is father to the deed: "More than two years after Wal-Mart's bruised chief executive wrote off opening a New York City store as not “worth the effort,” the Arkansas-based giant is back in the hunt, scouting out potential locations. The company's search is citywide, with a focus on the outer boroughs. Executives feel the recession makes this an ideal time to enter the city."

Now, far be it from us to discourage the Walmonster; after all, it does keep us active, alert, and fully funded. But the same obstacles that have always militated against the company's incursion into NYC are still very much in place: "But local labor leaders and elected officials warn that the company will face the same level of blistering opposition here if it tries again. “The reality remains the same,” says Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “Wal-Mart is not welcome in New York City, and it should not try to take advantage of these economic times to slither in.” Union officials insist company officials have repeatedly declined to meet with them to discuss their stance on unionization—clearly the tipping point if labor were ever to support a move by Wal-Mart into the city."

Wal-Mart, for its part, believes that it has undergone the kind of extreme makeover that will enable it to attract the handsome fellas that have shunned it because of its corporate ugliness: "Officials in Bentonville have worked hard to overhaul Wal-Mart's image. The retailer has launched a slew of green initiatives, improved employees' health care coverage and, most recently, signed a joint letter with the Service Employees International Union supporting a mandate for employers to provide health care to their workers."

But, as far as the city is concerned, it's SEIU-later; the labor folks in this brouhaha are not part of the Stern gang: "Union support could be a critical issue for Wal-Mart because it would most likely require land-use approval from the city to build here. And City Council members, many of whom rely heavily on labor's support, are unlikely to back a Wal-Mart store as long as unions are opposed."

And Speaker Quinn remains adamantly opposed as well: "While Wal-Mart claims to have improved corporate practices, these efforts appear to be little more than window dressing,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in a statement. “Until they make actual changes, providing a living wage and ending the practice of preying on small businesses, I will block any attempt to locate in the five boroughs.”

But where would the retail giant even look? Some folks feel that the city's poorer precincts would be fertile territory in the midst of a recession: "So where does that leave Wal-Mart? Mr. Serghini would not comment on the company's strategy, but the retailer is likely to focus on poor neighborhoods where there is a pent-up demand for jobs and supermarkets. Data from advocacy group The Food Trust shows the city has 137 too few supermarkets when compared with the rest of the nation. City residents already spend $125 million a year at area Wal-Mart stores, according to the company."

And it is also true that middle class neighborhoods are more resistant to the disruption that a Wal-Mart Super Center can cause-see our "Conservative Case Against Wal-Mart." But the Crain's author, after speaking to us at length, decided to cite our extensive documentation of this issue, but without attribution: "Opposition to Wal-Mart has tended to be stronger in middle-class communities, where residents worry the store would erode their neighborhood's character."

Massey does, however, cite the vacuous observation's of our buddy Kathy Wylde-who takes a wild, but futile stab at relevancy, on the Wal-Mart question: "Wal-Mart will look for support among communities of lower-income consumers who are eager to have them in the city,” says Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, of which Wal-Mart is a member. “We need jobs,” Ms. Wylde says. “If Wal-Mart is prepared to come in and make the investment, we should all welcome that, and the unions should make their case for why workers need to organize.”

Wylde, always with her hand on the pulse of low income New Yorkers, finds eagerness-but the only eagerness here is the alacrity that the Partnership demonstrates when cashing those Bentonville checks. And, as far as jobs is concerned, the Walmaonster will not only create poverty level jobs, but they will also cannibalize the living wage jobs in the city's unionized supermarkets; a poor trade off, especially in a recession.

But all of this is, as they say, a moot point; because unless the company can find an as-of-right site it has very little chance to successfully navigate the city's land use review process. But,as always, we welcome their attempt-we're having the best of times bitch slapping these suckers again, again, and again.