2011-02-17 / Guest Column

Who Really Loses If Walmart Is Banned In Brooklyn?

Darra Morrmiille

When I was 18 years old, a student at Brooklyn College and living in Canarsie, I got a job in Manhattan, working in a small “Mom and Pop” stationery store. It was annoying to have to get up early on weekends to travel outside my community for minimum wage job — it was $5.50 an hour then — that didn’t provide any benefits. We were only allowed a half hour lunch break and on the holidays we got no breaks at all.

For four years I worked at this “sweatshop”-like retail store, wishing there were more big businesses in and around Canarsie, so I wouldn’t have to commute for a job with a company that offered little to its employees. But, in order to finance my education and pursue a journalism career, I endured the hours and years of underappreciated labor.

Thinking back, it would have been great if Gateway Mall had existed in 1999 — I could have worked at one of those stores, which would have made things so much easier. It would have given me options for a decent part-time job that was, at least, closer to home.

When I read about the possibility of a Wal-Mart opening in a new Gateway shopping center, I realized that people have a right to object to the superstore — which may take away business from other area businesses.

Objections to a Walmart in Brooklyn, and other boroughs, has also stemmed from the company’s lack of care, treatment and benefits for workers.

If this is the case, why wasn’t the “Mom and Pop” shop I worked in for four grueling years brought down and protested against? We never picketed when we worked eight straight hours without a break during the busy seasons. I recently also learned that high school students, who say they are just grateful to have a job, work for my previous employer.

Of the few small, privately owned businesses still in existence in our community, I’m sure there are companies and retail stores that don’t treat their employees fairly. Some might not offer health care and only pay the new minimum wage.

Why don’t politicians start attacking those small businesses — like our beloved 99 cents stores and mini-marts — where workers sweep or shovel outside in all weather conditions, stock shelves and lift heavy parcels just to make a small salary so they can survive in this rocky economy? Employees obviously took those jobs accepting their responsibilities and work conditions.

It seems that small businesses manage to remain open because the demand is still here— and I don’t think the existence of a big box store like Walmart will change reality: if you just want a roll of toilet paper, a carton of milk, or a loaf of bread at 8 o’clock at night, you’re NOT going to travel all the way to Walmart at Gateway — you’ll probably head to one of the stores on Flatlands Avenue, Avenue L or Rockaway Parkway!

In addition, there isn’t as much retail competition in Canarsie now as there was years ago. Stores like Telco and Sona’s Gift Shop closed when their leases expired and rents were raised too high for the owners, who decided not to renew them even though residents still loved their convenience.

I’m sure there will be plenty more negative attention drawn to the issue of Walmart in Brooklyn. But with the lack of so many retail shops to work in and shop locally, who is really losing out on this modernday big box store proposal?

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