Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walmart and the Theater of the Absurd

Andrea Peyser had another laudatory look at the Walmonster in yesterday's NY Post-and claims that fears of the retail giant's impact are, "absurd."  Peyser's starting point is the speculation that there may be a site for Big Wally on Flatbush Avenue: "It's a rumble in Brooklyn. Word spread rapidly through the borough last week, like rats scampering through a subway car. The place was to be invaded. Were interlopers spreading violence? Or had slumming celebrities trained their sights on our shores? Not quite. This incursion was by forces far more sinister. Walmart."

Jeepers! Conflating a rumor in the Brooklyn Paper into an international incident: "On Monday, The Brooklyn Papers reported that the giant purveyor of discount orange juice and underwear six-packs was to open a massive store in a new development on the fringes of Flatbush Avenue near Kings Plaza, spreading jobs, bargains and -- if you believe carping critics -- pain. By Tuesday, word spread like a cancer to blogs and the mainstream media."

Except for the fact that, well, she hasn't got a handle on the facts-or on the purported high decibel level of fear that she somehow senses where none exists: "Tuesday night, an emergency meeting was scheduled so local officials might run Walmart out of town. "I don't know what the idea is," said Dorothy Turano, district manager of Community Board 18. "We could wake up one morning and find a Walmart there." The hearing was pushed back, due to snow. The next day, a spokesman for Forest City Ratner denied his company met with Walmart about opening a store in its planned Four Sparrows Retail Center."

So, let's set the record straight. The meeting that Peyser is hyperventilating about-as we said last week-was little more than a scoping session for the development, and no one believes that a Walmart will be able to navigate through this development process without getting thoroughly bitch slapped by the local board and the city council. But to her credit-and to that of her extrasensory perception-Peyser sees hysteria where none can be found.

But what of Peyser's sensing of a lunacy afoot in NYC? Here's what she tells us: "Is Walmart coming? From the hysterical reaction, you'd think the Evil Empire was about to swallow the city whole. Yet the chain has not announced a single project within the five boroughs. And still, official opposition to the retailer, already in the danger zone, has risen to lunatic levels."

This, "there's nothing to see here," attitude elides the fact that the Walmonster has been spending millions of propaganda dollars on advertising its supposed benefits to NYC-and has hired a team of consultants ands neighborhood booty capitalists. And, let's not forget, that Walmart's corporate spokespeople have already put the bull's eye on this town for the company's next great expansion effort.

In our view, it is a form of grotesque pandering for Peyser to troll East New York looking for out of work folks-and then ask them about their view of the store: "In a park in East New York, a long Town Car drive from Manhattan, I met a dad who watched his kids. Last year, he was out of work 12 months. Now it's going on 24. To him, Walmart is not just a store. It's the chance for a new life. "We need jobs," said Malik Johnson, a laid-off laborer. "I'd work at Walmart in a heartbeat."

It's heartbreaking to hear about anyone who has been out of work and struggling in this economy-but asking them about how they would feel about a potential job opening, is what we would call a self fulfilling prophecy. Better to ask Louis Hernandez's workers at the Pioneer Supermarket on Pennsylvania Avenue, or the workers at Shopper's World on Pitkin Avenue.

But Peyser can't quite see the threat-and pooh poohs the Chicago study done that demonstrated that the Walmonster takes more jobs a way than it provides: "Why the hostility? Public Advocate Bill de Blasio last week released studies that he said showed -- aha! -- that for every two jobs Walmart brings into a community, three are lost. But if you look at the numbers, you'll see the conclusion is a crock. One much-cited 2007 report by professors, led by David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine, is "full of a ton of caveats," said a source sympathetic to Walmart.

Gee, and she didn't ask us what we felt about the study-a report that has much more credibility than the Walmart push poll that Peyser's employer shamelessly has shilled. But Peyser believes that Walmart will-contrary to the documented experience all over the country-bring more stores into an area: "Translate that mouthful into English, and the same study that "proves" Walmart's a job killer suggests the opposite may be true. You see, when a Walmart opens, it draws new stores into the area. The result is that people get jobs. Perhaps in other industries, such as construction and hospitality. But don't ask me. Ask the dang study."

Better yet, ask the professors when they come to testify at the city council hearing next month But let's be real, Walmart has been littering the roadsides of America with the carcasses of local business for the past three decades-and, as far as other stores being enticed in when Walmart comes to town, they are more of the chain stores that are sucking the life out of independent businesses that really make the most positive contribution to a local economy.

In the end, it isn't absurd to be afraid of Walmart-on Flatbush Avenue, or anywhere else in NYC. The fact that Peyser can quote a Walmart booty capitalist and sycophant from Chicago with a straight face about this issue, says it all about her perspective-and why oversight and independent studies are so desperately needed: "Or ask Chicago Alderman Emma Mitts. "If I could have another store today, I'd get me another store today," she said on a video posted online. "Because people need jobs. "You have a big-box retail, and other, smaller stores are gonna come around and give you an economic engine, " Mitts said."

Walmart as an economic engine for small business? Only in Chicago could this nonsense be passed off as received wisdom-or on the fair and balanced pages of the NY Post.