They’ll Take Staten Island? Brooklyn Turns Back Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart is batting 0 for 2 in its quest to finally open a location in New York City.  Plans this spring to open a store in the Rego Park section of Queens failed and recent efforts to open a store in Brooklyn were rebuffed by the same combination of union, civic and small business activists that kept Wal-Mart out of Archie Bunker’s borough.

If you aren’t familiar with New York’s retail landscape, it’s a strange and wonderful mix of many small independent stores—hardware, drug, grocery, variety—that because of the dense population present in many NYC neighborhoods often provide everyday discounts normally only found on sale items in large chain stores.

The strength of independents in New York has a lot to do with the cost of real estate. Yet the same high density that has allowed many small stores to discount is proving irresistible to retail’s big boys.  Recent successes by Target and Whole Foods have proven that the cost of acquiring large retail spaces in Manhattan as well as the outer boroughs pays off.

So Wal-Mart is now in looking at locations in Staten Island, which might be a more suitable match for Sam’s Walton’s ever spreading retail legacy.  Or should I say menace?

Staten Island is more suburban, less like New York City and more like New Jersey than the rest of the city and moves to open a store there have been received with more enthusiasm than in the other boroughs. Should Wal-Mart succeed in New York, Detroit will remain as the only big metropolitan area without one.

While there are those who argue that lower income households benefit when Wal-Mart moves in, NBN disagrees.  Lower prices come with lower wages, lower benefits not too mention the impact of small business that leave in the wake of Wal-Mart’s legendary predatory tactics.  Of course the other problem is that despite Wal-Mart’s marketing intensive ad campaigns about the money they give back to their ‘communities’ this just isn’t true.  Money spent at Wal-Mart is money that moves out of town.

The jobs Wal-Mart provides are a large source of the ever-growing population of America’s working poor. Less than half of Wal-Mart’s workers have health benefits and as noted here and elsewhere, the company’s aggressive exploitation of its employees with forced, unpaid overtime, among just a few of the recent abuses, is unparalleled, at least in democratic nations.

Even predominately non-unionized Costco pays it workers substantially better, an average of $17 an hour—nearly twice Wal-Mart’s average—along with affordable health benefits and a relatively generous pension plan.  Wal-Mart counters that they’re helping communities by hiring what the company calls ‘non-traditional employees’ (senior citizens and high school students) and that they always follow labor laws.  This means, of course, that they never pay less than the federally mandated minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

And somehow we thought they weren’t good to their workers. Mmmm.  How did we ever come up with that?



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