Friday, December 17, 2010

Beware of Walmart's Booty Capitalists

It looks as if Assemblyman Darryl Towns has taken the bait-and his Walmart advocacy in today's NY Post is, in our view, a manifestation of the phenomenon of booty capitalism that we have commented on before. In his editorial, however, Towns manages to obfuscate all of the relevant issues that generate such fierce opposition to Big Wally: "East New York sees most of its workforce commute daily to neighboring communities. We are obliged to seek goods and services elsewhere in the city and beyond: 42 percent of my constituents have trouble finding clothing, household items, fresh meat, produce and dairy products locally, and 40 percent have issues finding quality supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants and banks."

This is an example of the blind leading the blind, it appears. We wonder where Towns derives these statistics from-"42% have trouble finding...? First of all there are two dozen locally owned and operated supermarkets within a two mile trade radius of the proposed mall expansion. But, in addition, the goods that Towns says are hard to find are currently being sold at the existing Gateway Mall-obviating the need to bring the ultimate bad actor and category killer into East New York.

Towns has an interesting view of what constitutes a local economy: "That said, it is critical for the sake of the local economy to look beyond any one retailer. Why single out Walmart? It's far from the first big-box store in our community or city. Is there a double standard here?" No, but there is a box store trend that is harmful to sustainable local economies, and the Walmonster would be-in this context-the proverbial nail in the local small business coffin.

What's truly sad here, is that Towns has championed minority business: "Shamefully, discrimination is still alive and well in the business world," said Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D-Brooklyn). "This is why I have fought tirelessly to enact reforms ensuring that minority and women business owners are able to thrive. I represent a very diverse Assembly District and I know that the establishment of these enterprises is beneficial not only to the entrepreneur, but to the community as well. The development and success of minority- and women-owned businesses are vital to the growth of our state's economy, especially in these difficult fiscal times."

A statement that must leave all of the local Hispanic, African American, and Asian owned supermarkets, bodegas and green grocers, slack jawed at the assemblyman's hypocritical tunnel vision. But Towns, for his part, is ready to play. Let's Make a Deal." As he tells the Post readers: "A healthy exchange that answers these and other questions needs to happen, and East New Yorkers need to play a prominent role in that discussion. One starting point is exploring how Walmart and the other potential merchants of Gateway II can be responsible community partners. Knee-jerk reactions to a single merchant isn't the way to build these partnerships."

Sounds just like a Jerry McGuire moment, doesn't it? But what of the smaller local merchants? Towns offers the following bromide: "The right approach is to learn the unmet needs of our local economy, work with all the new merchants (not just Walmart) to ensure that those needs will be met, build strong partnerships to monitor how they're meeting our needs and use these relationships to evaluate their efforts on a regular basis."

Towns is in another planet with this observation. What the mall is doing now-and what it will do more aggressively should Big Wally come in-is draining the local dollars out of the community and creating a more ruinous climate for all of the area's small retailers. If needs are-and/or will be-unmet, it is because you will have created one gigantic oasis off the Belt Parkway-but a crime infested desert everywhere else in East New York.