Monday, November 08, 2010

Small-Mart Invasion

Crain's has an in-depth look at the aggressive Wal-Mart expansion effort into NYC-and it looks as if the company really wants in when they are considering playing small ball: "Last month, Walmart announced that it would consider stores far smaller than its typical 150,000-square-foot supercenter. With no shortage of 30,000- to 60,000-square-foot spaces in the city, the “Smallmart” strategy could nullify longtime opponents' most potent weapon—the City Council's zoning hammer. No matter how loudly labor and political foes shout about Walmart's potential impact on nearby small businesses, its antiunion policies or its alleged discrimination against women, the downsized approach makes for a smoother entry into New York."

The potential proliferation of Small-Marts means that opponents are gong to have to devise some different strategic approaches-including examining chain store restrictions that cities like San Fransisco have adopted. But one thing is certain, the Walmonster battle cry that they are good for the NYC economy is a patented prevarication: "In a down economy, Walmart hopes to build community support by highlighting its potential economic impact. Last year, the company spent $5.7 billion with 835 New York City suppliers, and its foundation has given more than $9 million in grants to nonprofits here in the past three years."

As we will comment in a later post, when it comes to economic benefits, Big Wally takes away more than it gives-and the idea that the retail giant wants to piggy back on the city's supermarket "Fresh" initiative is risible. Speaker Quinn nails this argument: "When you look at the places [it] has gone, they're just pushing out the longtime mom-and-pop jobs and replacing them with their jobs in a cannibalistic way,” says City Council Speaker Christine Quinn."

Exactly so-and the complaints of the building trades about construction work lost don't compute when there are legitimate alternatives to the Walmonster for the expansion site in East New York: "Meanwhile, leaders of the city's building trades are still irritated that the retail union engineered the defeat of a proposed mall at the Kingsbridge Armory last year, killing 1,000 construction jobs. With its members facing 30%-plus unemployment rates, the trades have little incentive to join the retail unions in fighting Walmart, which said it will build with union labor. The Building and Construction Trades Council declined comment."

And Related may find out that, "as-of-right," doesn't always mean what everyone thinks that it might: "The fight has begun in East New York, Brooklyn, where Walmart is eyeing 180,000 square feet at The Related Companies' Gateway II complex. The City Council OK'd plans for a 630,000-square-foot shopping center there last year, but the vote didn't take into account the “higher order of environmental impact” of a Walmart, says Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Mr. Lipsky is preparing a legal challenge to the initial approval."

So, the game is definitely on, and opponents need to take on Big Wally with direct refutation of the clap-trap that the retailer and its enablers cite as a rationale for why the city would benefit from the company's aggressive entry. As City Limits has pointed out, the city is already suffering from the chain store epidemic. one that has really damaged the local business that is more vital to the economies of NY's neighborhood.

This isn't an exclusively union battle by any means-and the Wal-Mart invasion is a direct threat to the quality of life in NYC neighborhoods. The fact that Mike Bloomberg has emerged as the Walmonster's biggest booster, while disappointing, is no surprise- he has fronted for the big guys, and given small business the back of his hand, ever since taking office. It is time for the neighborhoods of NYC, and the civic groups that are their lifeblood, to join with labor and small business in the upcoming battle-a fight for economic diversity and the soul of the city.