Monday, December 27, 2010

Walmart: Not in My Neighborhood

The NY Times has an interesting story this morning about some Walmart in New York skeptics-folks who also happen to also be Walmart shoppers: "Shawneequa Clark, who lives in Brooklyn, goes to Wal-Mart several times a month. She appreciates the variety, she enjoys the grocery selection, and she takes advantage of the savings. In short, she loves Wal-Mart. As long as it stays in New Jersey."

An interesting phenomenon to say the least-but not one that we are unfamiliar with. When we successfully campaigned to stop Big Wally on Tottenville in Staten Island, many of the members of the Tottenville Civic Association shopped at the retail giant in Perth Amboy-but were vehemently opposed to having one in their neighborhood.

The Times captures some of this sentiment: "Wal-Mart has begun another aggressive lobbying campaign to build a store in New York City. Company officials argue that New Yorkers already shop at Wal-Mart and that expanding into the city would make it more convenient for them. But interviews with New Yorkers shopping here on a recent day revealed some surprising views: even some of Wal-Mart’s loyal customers would rather drive to the bargains than risk bringing those low prices — along with the crowds and competition that may come with them — closer to home. “I don’t believe Wal-Mart should be in the city,” Ms. Clark, 29, said. “All the local mom-and-pop stores would lose business. And it’s already congested. I mean, can you just imagine?”

Many New Yorkers have a great pride in their local neighborhoods-and have a strong allegiance to the shops that enliven their local shopping strips: "The chain is looking at locations in all five boroughs, and a contentious debate has begun about the company’s labor policies and potential effect on neighborhood retail areas. Outside the 189,000-square-foot Wal-Mart in Secaucus, Vinny Nicosia, 52, who lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, said he could not support a store in the city. “I’m not opposed to it in out-of-the-way places, but in the middle of the city, it’s tough,” Mr. Nicosia said. “It kills the neighborhood shops. I grew up in the neighborhood shops, and I don’t want them to go away.”

Which isn't to say that the Walmonster doesn't have fans-and legions of folks that are looking to avoid the city and state's confiscatory sales taxes. That being said, however, the current plan to put a huge Walmart Supercenter in East New York is an underhanded backdoor way for the retailer, and its duplicitous developer front man Related, to avoid the proper environmental and economic development review. This goes way beyond any popularity contest-and for the first Walmart to come into NYC without any review of its impact is simply unacceptable.

But what the Times story dramatizes is the phony nature of the Walmart public opinion survey which, like one of Justice Hugo Black's loyalty oaths, is proof of loyalty to nothing but self interest. That survey had determined that sizable majorities of New Yorkers would want to have a Walmonster in their neighborhood.

We have been doing this kind of grass roots lobbying for the better part of three decades-and our success in stopping large scale real estate developments in neighborhoods all over the city puts the lie to the Walmart self survey. The simple fact is we couldn't have been successful without the support-and the intense support-of communities that didn't want to destroy their quality of life; and the local neighborhood shops that were an integral part of it.

Which is why we have always use the unforgettable saying of Zarega's own Artie Felice when talkng to community groups-and the Times allows us to pay homage to that neighborhood sage whose expression of local loyalty we have adopted as our own: "Nonetheless, the fight from unions, city officials and community groups is likely to be fierce. City Council hearings are expected to begin next month. “There is a finite amount of shopping dollars out there, and if Wal-Mart is absorbing a huge percentage of them, they aren’t left for the other retailers,” said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for local businesses who is fighting Wal-Mart. “If you want a bargain, you get in your car and you go to the bargain. You don’t ever want to bring the bargain into the neighborhood.”