2011-01-27 / This Week's Attitude

Public’s Wishes Triumph Opposition To Walmart

Thiis Week’’ s Attiitude
By Neil S. Friedman

No one actually believed Chicken Little’s “The sky is falling” warning. But millions had the heck scared out of ‘em by the 1938 Halloween radio broadcast of H.G. Well’s “War of the Worlds,” when the 19th century sci-fi tale shocked listeners who thought it was a news alert announcing the arrival of Martians.

Now, a bona fide threat is about to invade our community, though it’s not as menacing an incursion as some would have us believe it might be.

By the way, this dilemma has nothing do with odd-looking alien creatures arriving in UFOs or even recognizable aliens who illegally cross our borders.

Still, the consequence could result in a giant settling in our midst. The “monster,” as some depict it in this case, is a retail giant rooted in genuine American capitalism.

If it were a movie, it might be titled, THE INVASION OF THE WALMARTIANS, but don’t look for it at the neighborhood multiplex anytime soon. In any case, Walmart, the Arkansas-based bargain retailer and nation’s largest grocer, may be opening at a new shopping mall just east of Canarsie. Nothing’s official, but rumor has it Walmart wants to open a store in a shopping area planned west of the mall that opened in 2003, and slated to be called Gateway II.

Some labor and community groups and a few politicians are worried about jobs and the loss of small, well-established mom-and-pop stores. They grumble about how the chain is nonunion and has been accused of exploiting its low-wage employees. But, if Walmart were such an awful employer, why would employees want to work in its stores? No one forces them. Besides, most Walmart jobs are low-paying, entry-level or part-time positions. And no one forces more than a million people a week to shop there.

Are the politicians who object to Walmart really concerned about how it will affect small businesses or are they more afraid of losing union campaign support and contributions at election time? Since there are not many small businesses within a mile radius of Gateway, it seems the union issue is more of a factor in their dissent.

Furthermore, the Daily News recently noted that the city’s pension fund is invested in Walmart stock. Consequently, before earnest officials start condemning the retail giant, they should ask the city to divest itself of stock from the very company to which they object.

Despite the anti-Walmart crowd’s gripes, the corporation should be considered for the benefits it offers, especially for economically-strapped Americans living on tight budgets. Even when the economy is robust, sharp consumers search for bargains; so now, though the economy is recovering at a snail’s pace — and unemployment remains historically high and could take years to trickle down to middle and low-income families — every dollar counts, most of all for low- and middle-income families.

The entry of Walmart into a community may lead to increased competition among local retailers, particularly the smaller ones. Walmart succeeds by purchasing items in bulk that allows it to offer a wider range of goods that it can sell at cheaper prices than smaller stores. But this has been a business pattern as long as there has been competition. It’s the economic version of survival of the fittest.

Over the last fifty years, once beloved, small neighborhood stores have slowly become extinct. In addition to being unable to compete price-wise with large retailers — whether its groceries, electronics, pharmacies or hardware supplies — landlords raised rents, which forced many small businesses to go out of business. But when was the last time City Council members urged local property owners to reduce rents to help mom-and-pop stores survive?

What’s more, big chain stores, such as Target and CVS, have added grocery sections that also serve as competition for neighborhood convenience stores. But no one complained when that change began taking place. Chain pharmacies, like Walgreen’s, Duane Reade and Rite Aid, are now in the competition mix and not a word of criticism was heard as they started mushrooming in neighborhoods across Brooklyn, driving friendly local pharmacists to retirement.

Just last week, in the latest effort to boost its public image and counter critics, Walmart announced it would reduce fats, salts and added sugars in some items, reduce its prices for fruits and vegetables, and appealed to suppliers to switch thousands of products for healthier ones, as it joined First Lady Michelle Obama in her campaign to combat childhood obesity.

That announcement is quite similar to the citywide effort to introduce green markets in lowincome communities to give consumers more options for nutritional goods.

It seems if the public, especially in Brooklyn where 76 percent of those polled last month, according to an independent company hired by the retail giant, is overwhelmingly in favor of Walmart opening in the community, it’s time politicians remember that they are elected by and supposed to respect constituents’ desires.

Politicians who object and vote to bar Walmart during the scheduled February 3rd City Council hearing — in opposition to the interests of most New Yorkers — maybe it’s time they vanish like the mom-and-pop stores they strongly support.

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