2011-02-10 / View From the Middle

Walmart Situation: A Dilemma, But, Oh, Those Bargains!

View From The Middle
By Charles Rogers

With all the controversy surrounding the establishment of a Walmart store in Brooklyn — right in our back yard near the Gateway Shopping Center just to the east of Starrett City — I decided to take a close look and do some shopping at their place in Valley Stream, Long Island.

It was great! I couldn’t have imagined finding such a vast display of merchandise of all kinds, from clothing to produce, in one place and at prices I’d usually find in an “Odd Lot” discount store. Whether the clothing might have been made in China or Korea or the USA is another matter for discussion at another time, but suffice to say at least the clothing items were more than acceptable to me. I wasn’t looking to be a fashion person anyway (probably couldn’t if I tried!).

Helping me to come to that satisfactory conclusion was the price, of course. If you want to get something chea…uh…inexpensive, you don’t have to take my word for it, but you won’t find sweatshirts at Macy’s for three dollars (that’s $3). And, oh, yeah. You know those sweaters J.C. Penney was selling for (roughly) $20 post-Christmas just a month ago? Well, Walmart had ’em on sale for $7. Now, I know these were clearance sales and all that, but don’t tell me you’re gonna find bargains like this somewhere else.

Foodwise, there were stacks of national brand potato chips — you know, those huge bags — for $1.50 (because of the Super Bowl coming up on the weekend), and all kinds of onion dip mix for literally under a dollar. Necessities, like loaves of bread were going for about $1.49 and a quart of milk was a buck-and-a-quarter.

Now, we know what the controversy is. I’ll have to use the word “allegedly” fairly often because, so far, I’ve only heard the horribly detrimental things, mostly from the speeches of elected officials, about the super store. For instance they allegedly don’t pay wages that would keep a man and his family out of the poverty register for long; such as no time-and-ahalf for overtime; that they don’t give benefits like other “big box” stores do; that health care is on the lower rung in most cases; that Walmart allegedly doesn’t do business with merchants within a reasonable range of local communities; and that they are “professionals” at false advertising. It’s also alleged that Walmart could build up a store and clientele and then, just as fast, move out of the community, leaving empty buildings and consumers and out-of-work workers not knowing what to do or where to go next.

They say that working conditions are lousy and the employees don’t like it. Well, frankly, I did a little investigative reporting during my shopping trip and asked four separate employees in different departments how they liked working there. They all said they were happy in their jobs. Of course they wished they were making more money, but…don’t we all? When I mentioned that some workers were said to be unhappy, they ALL said, “Tell them they don’t HAVE to work here. They can always quit!”

And there’s the union problem. Walmart allegedly won’t hire union workers — and that seems to be a big bone of contention now, in City Council meetings, as well as public forums.

As we know, the City Council, headed by Speaker Christine Quinn, held a hearing last week on the Walmart subject and, although there were scores of attendees on hand, Walmart decided to NOT attend, leading its competitors to call them “chicken” and other words that should not be mentioned in a family newspaper. The Walmart officials countered by saying, “Why should we come to the meeting? We’ll only be yelled at and laughed at and we won’t be able to state our case anyway.”

They were right on that count. Those at the meeting jeered properly as Speaker Quinn and Councilman Charles Barron, both adamant foes of the store, took the opportunity to raise the ire of their voting constituents to condemn Walmart and all it stands for. During the meeting, however, neither mentioned that Walmart officials have already met with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and agreed to use union workers in all of its construction and renovation work.

Duh! THAT sounds like they’re working with unions, doesn’t it?

Another big factor, of course, is the effect Walmart will have on the “mom ’n pop” stores in the community; the bodegas and small boutiques and other small stores in local neighborhoods. Yes, it does sound cruel when you think of it from a humanistic, compassionate standpoint; and one can wish life was not like this, but this is capitalistic enterprise in its purest, cruelest form: the conglomerate pushing the little man out in order to make money.

What to do? what to do? Do we rise up and form a marching crowd of townspeople and follow the Quinns and the Barrons with lighted torches and push these giants out of town and give “mom ’n pop” our business? All the while — and you know it to be true — we’ll hypocritically be jumping in the car and taking a ride on a Saturday to Long Island’s Walmart because that’s where we’ll sure as hell find a great bargain.

In the meantime, ask Ms. Quinn about the last time she got a bargain while shopping in her neighborhood mom ’n pop store and ask Mr. Barron where he buys his shirts.

It’s a dilemma, all right. What to do? What to do?

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