Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wal-Mart: Doing the Merengue on Astroturf

Wal-Mart is pulling out all stops to get a foothold into NYC-and one of its tactics appears to be a sub rosa effort to generate support from Hispanic businesses. This process actually was started over four years ago-as the NY Sun reported: "Wal-Mart, while keeping quiet on when and where it plans to open its first store in New York City, is actively courting local minority business owners, networking with immigrant nonprofit organizations, and hosting supplier workshops. Many small-business owners have responded enthusiastically to the overtures, a striking contrast to a frequently heard criticism that if the retail giant enters New York it would be detrimental to commerce in the city."

Well, not really, and the open arms that the Sun found for the Walmonster was being orchestrated by one Frank Garcia-probably not the guy you'd want as your No. 1 muñeco: "I've been fighting for the small businesses more than almost anyone else out there - I am very sensitive to them. But I also have an allegiance to the members who pay their dues every year," the president of the New York Statewide Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Frank Garcia, said. "To those minority businesses, this could really save their business. This could create a lot of jobs in the South Bronx."

Which, as we commented at the time, makes Garcia the city's leading booty capitalist:

"It seems that our friends at Wal-Mart have been very busy networking with a wide range of diverse and apparently malleable small business groups. Front and center in this effort is one eager fellow named Frank Garcia. Garcia calls himself the president of the New York Statewide Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and in the past few years has managed to alienate a wide range of Hispanic organizations, including the NYS Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce that is headed by Alfred Placeres. The Federation is the longstanding group that has represented the interests of Hispanic businesses.

As far as we know, and we have been working with Hispanic business groups for the better part of two decades, Garcia has just recently injected himself into this field and has all of the legitimacy of any self-appointed spokesman. But Garcia really isn't the issue. There will always be Garcia types looking to benefit, in a parasitic manner, from the largesse of a Wal-Mart.

The real issue is the cynical attempt of Wal-Mart to use some minority businesses to create a beachhead in NYC. And from the looks of things it won't be easy. Gerson cites the vigorous opposition of Councilmember John Liu: "The impact of Wal-Mart would be to not only degrade worker conditions in New York City, but would also drive a dagger into the economic engine of New York City, which is small business."

The inescapable fact here is that the Walmonster would devastate the city's Hispanic small business class, one that is heavily concentrated in the food business. There are over 400 Hispanic owned supermarkets, and thousands of smaller food outlets that have been used by Hispanic entrepreneurs as a stepping stone to greater business success-and it is these groups that are in the eye of the storm if Wal-Mart comes to town.

All of which makes Garcia the Benedict Arnold of the Hispanic business community. But it isn't only Hispanic businesses that are at risk if Wal-Mart comes to town-as the Sun points out: "The president of the Small Business Congress, a federation of 70 trade organizations in New York, Sung Soo Kim, has campaigned vigorously on how Wal-Mart could destroy his members. Wal-Mart, he said, in addition to potentially ruining the unique commercial environment in New York, "created a playing field which we cannot play inside." With about 15,000 city stores closing their doors in 2004 and an estimated 10,000 entering bankruptcy in 2005, he said, "We declared small business in crises." Of his members, he said, not one is in favor of Wal-Mart's coming to New York."

What's really scandalous in all of this is the fact that NYC has been the crucible for tremendous success by Hispanic immigrant entrepreneurs-as the Sun highlights in another article from 2006: "The rapid recent growth of Hispanic-owned businesses in New York is outpacing the rest of the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released today. The figures, based on an analysis of surveys taken in 1997 and 2002, show that the number of Hispanic-owned firms in New York grew 57%, nearly double the national rate of Hispanic-owned firms and more than five times the national average for all businesses."

Of course, when the mayor bloviates about how big a fan he is of immigrants, he fails to see how this putative support doesn't jibe with his Wal-Mart boosterism. But when you're presiding over the biggest small business crisis in decades, one that has seen all many, shape and form of small firms reeling and collapsing in droves, you can't expect integrity from the mayor on this front.

Still, in the past four years, Frank Garcia has made a cottage industry out of promoting Wal-Mart-and is doing so now by undermining Alfredo Placeras and the NY State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce by creating a rump front group. This fifth column needs to be exposed because it doesn't represent the indigenous Hispanic small businesses, firms that will suffer greatly if Big Wally comes to town.

As for Mr. Garcia, our advice to the Bentonville Bombers is: Be careful who you choose as your dance partner.