Monday, December 13, 2010

Wall to Wal-Mart Coverage

Wal-Mart's battle for New York is really heating up-and the company has yet to even admit that it is dealing for a store at the expanded Gateway Estates Mall in East New York. In yesterday's NY Daily News, the paper went out to the neighborhood and discovered fear and loathing from one small supermarket owner-someone who represents an entire class of food store operators in and around the proposed Wal-Mart site.

As the News reported, the developer Related had an opportunity for a supermarket as part of its expansion, but decided to roll the dice for the Walmonster: "East New York is bracing for what could be the city's first Walmart, as the big box chain seriously eyes a site in the neighborhood. The developer that owns a site Walmart has reportedly been considering cut off talks several months ago with several supermarket chains interested in the space, focusing instead on making a deal with the retail giant. "Related basically threw the supermarkets under the bus and decided to put all its eggs in the Walmart basket," said a real estate source. "They felt comfortable that it would happen."

Of course, Related did all it could to camouflage its real intentions when the expansion came to the city council for review-going to the extreme of lying to the local council member's face. But back to the supermarkets at risk: "It's like David and Goliath. Walmart's a multibillion-dollar corporation, and we're just a small business. We cannot compare with the prices," said Arturo Payambs, 28, owner of a Compare Supermarket a few blocks away from the site. "They tell Pepsi what to do or Coca-Cola what to do. We don't have that power. "This is my business. It's my dream," he said. "I see everything getting crushed."

But it won't be only this one Compare store that's put at risk-and we believe that four nor five other stores-all owned by immigrant entrepreneurs-that are also endangered. It is, however, nice to know that the mayor-the city's loudest Wal-Mart cheer leader-is also posturing as a champion of immigrants: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told his business-world peers on Friday that if they cared about their city and, more pointedly, their companies, they needed to support his call for comprehensive immigration reform."

Actual immigrants already here? Well, they can grab whatever menial job they can-and why not Wal-Mart?-because the city will do whatever it can to make the lot of entrepreneurs a difficult one indeed-just ask those immigrant food wholesalers who the mayor cheerfully kicked out of the Bronx Terminal Market. All at the service of creating another shopping mall for, what a surprise, Related.

Make no mistake about it, if Big Wally metastasizes all over NYC, the result will be one of the largest examples of ethnic cleansing-business style-that the country has ever seen. That's because it was mostly Hispanic-as well as Asian-food store operators who pioneered bringing fresh produce and other foods to inner city New Yorkers. They, like our friend Arturo Pyambs, will be swept into the dustbin of history if Wal-Mart opens thirty or more stores in this town.

But, as is so often said in matters like this one-it ain't no done deal. As the NY Times reports, the opposition is grwoing and it is intense: "The New York City Council was supposed to hold a hearing this Tuesday about a renewed campaign by Wal-Mart to open its stores in the city. But it had to be rescheduled, for January. “We needed a bigger room,” the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said. “We heard from unions all across the city, small business leaders from across the city. It’s a growing list of people.”

And it's not as if Wal-Mart hasn't tried to shoe-horn its way in here before now: "Wal-Mart, an inescapable part of the retail landscape just about everywhere except in New York City, twice retreated on efforts to open stores in the city after fierce community opposition...The renewed push by Wal-Mart comes five years after the retailer tried to open stores in Queens and Staten Island but faced furious opposition from community leaders and elected officials." As Tevya would say, "Ah yes, I remember it well."

Public Advocate de Blasio is joining with Speaker Quinn in this coalition effort: "Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, predicted, “They’re not going to find it easy to get serious public support. "As you reap,” Mr. de Blasio added, “so shall you sow, and they’ve had a really bad history. You can talk to people across the spectrum and they’ve all heard something about the problems of Wal-Mart.”

RWDSU's Stuart Appelbaum tackles the, "more jobs," canard: "There are some people who say, ‘Well, if Wal-Mart comes in, that means jobs,’ ” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which supported the efforts to stop Wal-Mart the last time it tried to open stores in New York. “But what it does is, it replaces good jobs with jobs that keep people in poverty.”

For its part, Wal-Mart is slicker and quicker than it used to be, riffing on the city's Fresh Initiative to justice its assault: "This year, Wal-Mart has also expanded its pitch, promoting itself as a solution to problems beyond unemployment. Mr. Restivo said that in its hunt for real estate, the company was focusing on areas that were “underserved” both economically and in their access to fresh food. Providing more fruits and vegetables to these so-called food deserts is a crucial issue for both Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Quinn, the council speaker."

But, as we have clearly shown, this is fools gold at its worst-with one Walmonster replacing four or five existing smaller supermarkets in a Devil's bargain for NYC. There are some other arguments about competition being made that we will rebut forcefully later in the day-because the issue needs to be seen in a much larger and richer context that the shills and toadies would like us to believe. And we will also take a look at the public opinion polls-with the understanding that New Yorkers-God, we do love them-would, without blinking an eye, buy off the back of a truck if it meant paying less.

Let's leave all of that now, and wrap up this opening chapter with an admonition to Wal-Mart and its enablers. You are in for a mega-battle that will leave you the worse for it. Get ready for Round 1.