Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Walmart in NYC Doesn't Ad Up

Walmart, the store that short changes its own employees and shunts tens of thousands of workers to local public assistance rolls so that they can make ends meet, has now launched a mutli-million dollar public relations campaign to generate support for its NYC invasion plans. The NY Times has the story: "As Wal-Mart battles to open its first stores in New York City, the City Council will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the possible impact to local businesses and communities. Wal-Mart will not participate. Instead, the retail giant has kicked off an intense media campaign, with direct mail, advertisements and a Web site, to get its message to New Yorkers."

How apropos-just like those billionaires who run for office bypassing the actual need to campaign in direct contact with the folks. Walmart is unwilling to take its message directly to the city council members-preferring an unfiltered monologue full of misleading factoids and disinformation. Speaker Quinn nails this: "City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn said: “If you’re proud of who you are, if you’re proud of your product, if you think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, why wouldn’t you come and tout it? They’re not showing up because they don’t have the stuff they say they have. They don’t have the data to refute what myself and others are saying.”

Which is exactly what Public Advocate de Blasio is saying-and he has collaborated with Hunter College in authoring a report that is damning to the Walmonster. The NY Daily News has the story: "A report by de Blasio and Hunter College researchers concluded that Walmart store openings kill three jobs for every two they create. "There's a lot of evidence here that we're going to lose jobs in the end because of Walmart," de Blasio said. "This report proves just how consistent that trend has been around the country." The report claims Walmart cuts into sales at local stores by up to 40%, and costs taxpayers big bucks when its employees have to apply for public insurance and other benefits. "The more New Yorkers learn about Walmart, the angrier they're going to be," said de Blasio, who wants zoning laws changed so big-box chains need special approval."

And what about that disinformation? Walmart is claiming that their ad campaign is designed to counteract the, "special interests." Crain's has this risible claim: "Many New Yorkers woke up Monday morning to a radio advertisement by Walmart blasting “special interest” groups for pressuring the City Council to derail its efforts to open shop in the city. “Turn down new jobs and stop people from paying lower prices to satisfy some special interest?” the 60-second spot asks. “That's everything people hate about politics.”

Special interests? Not, of course, the world's richest-and worker stingiest-retailer. Big Wall is a not for profit public benefit corporation-unlike those nasty unions that represent actual New Yorkers struggling to get paid a decent wage. And unlike all of those immigrant entrepreneurs in the retail and whole business in New York who will have their dreams shattered by the Walmart invasion-in what would be the country's biggest and most egregious example of small business ethnic cleansing.

One of those special interests is cited in the Times: "Some local store managers, including Mark Tanis, who runs a Shoppers World in East New York, Brooklyn, say that Wal-Mart’s media push might present a threat to small businesses that cannot buy advertisements on such an enormous scale." That's right Tanis, a Haitian-American who employs 60 local workers is one of those selfish interests trying to stop the retail version of the Visiting Nurse Service from coming to the aid of sickened New Yorkers.

Also weighing in was our special interested union leader whose campaign for a living wage transcends the narrow self interest of his own members: "Wal-Mart can’t buy a fig leaf large enough to hide all the harm they would do to our communities and workers if they were to open here,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “New York is not for sale.”

Perhaps the funniest-and most ironic-aspect of the Walmart ad nauseum campaign was the manner in which they cribbed our quote from a NY Times story of a few weeks ago. Here's how it goes: "Here's what a lobbyist for the Retailers Union recently told the New York Times. Quote, "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." That's right. The special interests are actually saying that if you want to save money you need to leave the city and go shop in New Jersey."

This is not only a wonderful example of chutzpah-after all the Walmonster has no clue about the importance of neighborhoods to this city-but is also a demonstration of how a company with billions of dollars can employ its wealth to purposely mislead the gullible. After all, it was the citizens of Tottenville-more of those special interests, we guess-who told Big Wally to take their store and shove it.

There have been countless similar examples of this over our thirty years of working in collaboration with neighborhoods and their small businesses. The folks in Bay Ridge did the same thing when Charlie Katz tried to foist a giant mall on their community-and the good people of Astoria did the same when Pathmark wanted to put a huge new store in their neighborhood.

And in that case, the developer took out ads in the local papers attacking us for, guess what?-wanting to deprive Astorians of lower prices. Astoria didn't buy that bull, and came out in the hundreds to a public meeting-a foreshadowing of the Tottenville turnout-to demonstrate their implacable opposition to the large shopping center in the midst of their neighborhood. In that same time frame, the good people of Hells Kitchen and Chelsea came out to support their local council member, someone named Chris Quinn, we believe-to just say no to Costco in their neighborhood.

So the Walmonster is only the latest of the big boxes that want in without any gainsaying their intentions-but it is the most dangerous not only because of its resources, but also because of the current economic climate that has put small business in the crapper. The initial fight however, one that Walmart dosn't want to acknowledge, is a specific site in East New York.

The only issue here is that Walmart and its duplicitous developer want to move forward without any review of the store's impact. So we say to the Walmonster: submit to an economic impact and environmental review of a Walmart supercenter in the Gateway Estates Mall-one that the developer Related cleverly avoided in the first instance. Let the facts come out and let Walmart state its case to the public about what a boon it is to the city.

We are going to give Walmart's Steve Restivo, cited in the News, the last word-and if he is sincere, which we tend to doubt, then he should be welcoming the oversight that his developer friend made an end run of: If Restivo truly believes his own rhetoric, he should be chomping at the bit for a chance to be testifying at as many city council hearings as possible-and not shucking and ducking when called upon to do so: "We aren't going to sit idly by while others try to tell the Walmart story, based mostly on misinformation," said spokesman Steve Restivo. "We know in the overwhelming majority of cases our stores create quality jobs and have a positive impact on the surrounding community."