Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wal-Mart Hearing a Go

As Crain's is reporting, the city council hearing on Wal-Mart is on for the 14th of December: "With Walmart officials making it clear they intend to open stores in the five boroughs, the City Council has scheduled a hearing next month to review the impact the mega-retailer would have on small business and communities across the city. The hearing, set for Dec. 14, has been titled “When Wal-Mart Comes to Town” and will offer a “historical and prospective view” of the Arkansas retail giant's impact, according to a Council notice. It will be a joint hearing of the Small Business, Community Development and the Economic Development committees."

And the council will get an earful-with studies showing that the first major Wal-Mart in Northern urban setting has not provided nearly the bang for its bucks that the Walmonster's shills have alleged. As we commented yesterday, there are collateral damages aplenty-but in the supermarket niche Big Wally is particularly a pernicious category killer. With the Speaker having issued her major policy initiative, "Foodworks," the question of whether Wal-Mart will work against her policy goals, should be a major focus of the hearing.

We are busy compiling the inventory of local supermarkets in the trade area for the proposed East New York Wal-Mart, and we believe that it will encompass over two dozen independently owned stores that employ hundreds of New Yorkers. Supermarket growth in underserved areas is a major component of the Foodworks doctrine, and we expect that the council will pay scrupulous attention to the Wal-Mart zero/sum game.

As we pointed out yesterday: "Wal-Mart poses a large challenge to policy makers. Changes in the way the city does land use are essential to meet the Walmonster's out sized threat. The first step in this direction involves the deconstruction of the Wal-Mart myths that bolster the false conception that the retail giant is an overall plus for New York." The council should devote some of its own resources to examining just how a proliferation of Walmonsters or even Little Wallies will effect the city's supermarket niche and its immigrant business class that is heavily represented in the food business.

One thing that must be analyzed, is the interrelation between local food retailers and their wholesale suppliers. Foodworks spends a considerable time examining the importance of food wholesaling-particularly the centrality of the Hunts Point Market. We have asked store owners to make lists of their local suppliers-meat and produce in particular-and we will contrast this local nexus with the way in which Wal-Mart brings so much of its inventory in from outside the city.

Keep in mind, that this has never been done before-and certainly not in the context of a comprehensive economic impact analysis. This should be Priority 1 for the city council-as Crain's points out: "The planned hearing is an oversight one, and not a gathering to debate any piece of legislation. But labor groups opposed to Walmart are likely to push the Council to consider a law like one passed earlier this month in San Diego. The city council in San Diego passed a measure to require retailers of more than 90,000 square feet who sell groceries to conduct an economic impact analysis before proposed stores can be approved. The 5-to-3 vote in favor of the law came despite public opposition from Walmart, which took out newspaper and television advertisements arguing against it. A similar bill passed by the Maine legislature in 2007 requires cities and towns to conduct impact studies and only approve the stores if it's found they have no adverse impact on jobs, local businesses and municipal finances."

Wal-Mart, as Crains reminds us, is getting smarter-but we won't go overboard about that yet: "Steven Restivo, Walmart's director of community affairs, said the company would do what it can to help inform the discussion in New York. The retailer is “proud” of its record in creating jobs, helping people save money and spurring economic development, he added. But he said he did not see the need for a city council hearing."

It's our experience that there are good reasons why folks don't want to have hearings-and it is usually because they are well-healed interests more comfortable doing insider trading than public defending: "With too many city residents out of work and living without access to healthy food, we don't entirely understand the desire to spend time and resources on a Walmart-specific hearing, especially when we don't have a store or an announced project here,” he said."

Perhaps Mr. Restivo is just being bashful-or maybe he hasn't yet been able to get his AstroTurf campaign fully mobilized. In Chicago, the Walmonster seeded the political landscape with a whole bunch of shills and toadies: "The lack of good options available to people that live on the South and West sides of Chicago has been well-documented, and it’s very plausible that there is a substantial and passionate movement in those neighborhoods to bring Wal-Mart to their communities as a solution. Wal-Mart would have us believe that such a sentiment exists, but it turns out that support for their expansion into the city is being manufactured by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, a local public relations powerhouse, and by Wal-Mart itself."

Keep  a close eye on this tactic in NYC-and, as we have seen, the Walmonster has been trying to make inroads with the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, using a paid puppet as its fifth column: "While Wal-Mart certainly has the right make its case to Chicago, the way they’ve gone about this - creating a fake community group that purports to represent a community's residents and interests - is sneaky and underhanded. If what they have to offer Chicago is such a great deal, why did they need to go through the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to set up a bogus grassroots group? When I started asking questions around their tactics, they refused to talk to me, except on their own terms."

Get ready NYC! But our focus will be on finally shedding sunlight on all of the propagandistic utterances of the Wal-Mart chorus-and those like the mayor who champion its interests against those of indigenous, mostly immigrant entrepreneurs. As we told Crain's: "Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, said the hearing was needed, especially because the Brooklyn site was approved by the Council for major retail use but without considering the prospect that it might include a Walmart. “When the Council considers an application without having a clear understanding of exactly what is going to be in the development, there should be some kind of process by which the economic impacts of a development are reviewed,” he said. “We need to understand that what we're getting is not as beneficial as city would have us believe.”