Monday, April 26, 2010

And the Wal Came Tumbling...

Well, it looks as if the Walmonster-quite like Freddy Krueger-is a difficult resident evil to kill. As Crain's is reporting, the retail giant may be trying to sneak its way in to the already approved Gateway Mall expansion in Brooklyn: "The 630,000-square-foot Gateway II shopping center off Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn is among the sites Walmart is eying in a renewed push to build its first New York City store, sources familiar with the situation say. Union leaders, fearful of a potential Walmart deal at the Related Cos.-owned site near Spring Creek Towers, are planning a protest in the next 10 days, but so far both the Arkansas-based retail giant and the developer insist there is nothing to announce."

If the rumors are true, however, this could get to be a nasty fight-and not just for the retailer. When a similar rumor was floated for Rego Center-developed by Vornado-the developer heeded the intense pressure brought by the Alliance and the coalition of the RWDSU and the UFCW. Even thought this plan has been ULURPED, it is by no means a done deal-as the NY Daily News reports: "Opponents already are gearing up for a fight. "They'll have the battle of their lives," said City Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn). "Walmart exploits workers ... and we want no part of that." Supermarket lobbyist Richard Lipsky said the developer could face a lawsuit because environmental studies didn't consider the amount of traffic a store like Walmart would generate."

That doesn't stop the NYC Partnerships' Kathy Wylde from styling on behalf of one of her own, as Crain's points out: "If the theater of the land-use approval process is not available to opponents, I don't think there's another easy way to mount a campaign against them,” says Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, of which Walmart is a member."

And Crain's hypothesizes that the developer Related is not vulnerable to political pressure: "But earlier this year, Walmart officials told Crain's the retailer was restarting its search for a New York City location. Now that quest appears to be gaining momentum. Observers say the company has been on the lookout for an as-of-right site because gaining approval from the many City Council members dependent on union support would be extraordinarily difficult. Plus, Walmart would need a local developer that doesn't have major projects before the council that members might sacrifice in protest against Walmart. Related would seem to fit that bill, since its Hudson Yards project was approved and its Kingsbridge Armory plan was shot down by the council late last year."

But the opposition is really just getting started so the fact that Crain's and Wylde are sanguine doesn't mean all that much: "We don't like how they treat workers as it relates to salaries and benefits, and we're not going to have them in our community,” says City Councilman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn. “They will have the fight of their lives.”

As we have already pointed out, the impact of the urban Walmoster in Chicago has already been evaluated-and the results aren't good for the local retailers. As we said last week: "And the Post's view that somehow Wal-Mart would be the white knight for the city's poor? Only if obliterating small neighborhood-minority owned-business is how you envision Sir Galahad. And a study about the new Chicago Wal-Mart dramatizes the way in which the Walmonster will truly create the urban desert (

What does the study tell us about the mega store's impact? Here it is: "The opening of a Wal-Mart on the West Side of Chicago in 2006 led to the closure of about one-quarter of the businesses within a four-mile radius, according to this study by researchers at Loyola University. They tracked 306 businesses, checking their status before Wal-Mart opened and one and two years after it opened. More than half were also surveyed by phone about employees, work hours, and wages. By the second year, 82 of the businesses had closed. Businesses within close proximity of Wal-Mart had a 40 percent chance of closing."

So let the battle begin-and all those who stand behind the small business killer beware. You all ain't seen nothing yet. Kingsbridge will seem like a scuffle of five year olds at Kindergarten.