Thursday, May 06, 2010

Wal-Mart Plotz

The NY Post's Andrea Peyser swings away in a robust defense of the Walmonster in today's paper. But much like the think tank contessa that threw out the first ball in the Wal-Mart to NY campaign in Sunday's NY Daily News, Peyser manages to do more bloviating than enlightening-but she, unlike Marta Mossburg from Baltimore doesn't have the excuse of being from out of town.  And her first major mistake is to characterize the opposition to the retail giant as a cabal of left leaning Manhattan poseurs.

Here's her mischaracterization: "In political, union and chattering circles, the idea of allowing retail behemoth Wal-Mart into the borders of New York City is viewed as destructive. Akin to blending polyester into silken La Perla thongs. Or inviting Lindsay Lohan to an open bar...But while the battle cry makes politically attractive dinner patter among lefty activists and patronizing Upper East Siders, the message is not welcome in East New York, where bargains are scarce, jobs nonexistent. And where politicians, clutching GPS units, drive out only at election time."

The truth is something quite different-as we found out when we led the successful fight against Wal-Mart in Staten Island. That fight coalesced around the Tottenville Civic Association and its leader June Delaney; and the concern was the impact that the mega store would have on the community's quality of life. And the Rego Park fight that led Vornado to ditch the Walmonster was fortuitous indeed, since the newly opened Rego Center-without the traffic magnet Wal-Mart-is causing a huge headache to the local community.

So the fight against the intrusion of Wal-Mart's retail model into NYC isn't only about the prerogatives of labor-although we'll get to that  since Peyser doesn't deal with that issue straight up either. It's about the impact that the store has on neighborhoods and small business; an impact that Peyser caricatures unfairly: "The small store that "serves" the community is an urban myth, like snakes in a toilet. These stores are monopolies, stocked with the most expensive goods in the city. Many owners don't even live in the areas they serve."

Is Peyser on some kind of controlled substance? There are over 200,000 Mom and Pop retailers enlivening the hundreds of commercial strips in this city-snakes indeed! And a majority of these store owners are now minority operators, immigrants in pursuit of the American Dream. But Peyser needs to sidestep and ridicule this reality-all at the same time-in order to elide the fact that the Walmonster devastates local business (as the Chicago study we have commented on demonstrates).

And in the East New York neighborhood that she "visited" yesterday there are over two dozen local supermarkets-Key Foods C-Towns and Associateds that have been servicing this low income neighborhood for years. More snakes? And many of these stores are union stores-there are over 50,000 grocery store workers in the city-who will be displaced; and their jobs replaced by lower wages and fewer benefits.

But what about the jobs? Peyser uses the Kingsbridge fight to underscore her misinformed jobs mantra: "But the city has a wacky bug up its rump about development that helps the poor. Even the rich who like a bargain. In a display of idiocy, the City Council last year rejected The Bronx's Kingsbridge Armory, denying stores, tax money and thousands of jobs to the city, because retailers would not guarantee to pay a "living wage." Now, there's no wage." Peyser leaves out the fact that the subsidizes project would have shifted jobs away from established neighborhood stores (those "snakes"); and used tax payer money to do it-some deal!

Helping the city's newcomers and its poorest is also about entrepreneurship-and NYC has always been a place where the next new immigrant wave can gain a foothold with a small business niche. Wal-Mart will-and don't think we're talking about just one store-level the playing field; and we really mean level the playing field, as it has done in countless small towns all over America.

But the issue of low prices really gets us. Peyser interviews some folks and, not surprisingly, they agree with paying less: "And a completely unscientific survey of actual residents indicates that more than 90 percent would shout, "Hooray!" at the sight of the blue-and-white sign. Samantha Deleonard walked Jordan Walker, 9, by the hand past the Super Deli & Grocery, one of her two pitiful choices. "Everything is more money than it should be. They never have a sale!" she said." Where the heck was this? And comparing the prices at a local bodega to with country's largest retailer is, well, simply a non sequitor. And the assumption that this store is one of two, "pitiful," choices doesn't stand up to an even cursory neighborhood survey.

But Wal-Mart's not coming into to East New York on some day pass from Six Flags-especially when there's an attempt to avoid land use review. We have a few tricks up our sleeves, and the RWDSU/UfCW folks will be joining forces with many who feel that there is a much too high price to pay for the low prices that Wal-Mart offers-an unacceptable mode of doing business that will have to change before the Walmonster gets anything but a Bronx cheer.