Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is Walmart Coming to NYC?

New York is the city with everything -- except, that is, a Walmart store. A Walmart Superstore, to be precise. Walmart is the biggest and most notorious "big box" retail chain in the nation (and the world), the place that sells almost everything ever invented in human existence (home supplies, food, clothes, books and magazine, you name it). They even provide services like pharmacies and banking. Walmart boasts that it is the ultimate "one-stop shop", the one place where you can get everything you need. And why are they so successful? Because they sell all of this stuff really, really cheap.

Great, right? Hey, you might be saying, we could sure use a Walmart in NYC! Well, not so fast.

Walmart can only afford its cheap prices because: a) it is non-unionized and pays its employees awful wages without any benefits; b) engages in rampant labor abuses like forcing employees to work overtime "off the clock", even going so far as locking them inside the stores. Many of their employees live below the poverty line and are forced to use things like food stamps and Medicaid to live on (i.e. the government/taxpayers subsidize the company); c) forcing companies to shut down their factories in the USA and shipping those jobs overseas -- in order for the companies to produce cheaper goods under the threat that Walmart won't carry them; and d) coming into communities and putting small mom-and-pop shops out of business.

It's a horrible company. It's the epitome of everything that's wrong with corporate America. The people who work for the company are little more than slaves while the people who own it (the Wal family) are some of the richest people on earth. Walmart may be cutting edge as a business, but its practices are friggin' Medieval.

Fortunately, the one place where Walmart has failed to open a store is in NYC. This is still very much a union-town, and the unions and the city council have successful kept the company out of the five boroughs. Like a ravenous caged animal in heat, Walmart has been panting with it's tongue hanging out, trying to break out (or, in this case, in) to NYC -- those 8 million potential customers being their prey. Walmart has been successful just about everywhere else in the country (even Chicago finally let them in) but NYC has remained elusive, its bonanza of customers a figurative White Whale.

I remember about five years ago there was some noise about Walmart coming to NYC but it didn't happen and it seemed like it never would. After all, constructing a huge non-union big box store in NYC would create a huge backlash by the unions and politicians. But it seems like Walmart has found a new tactic -- start small. According to recent reports, Walmart is looking to open small stores in lower Manhattan and Queens, mostly concentrating on groceries. The idea is to give New Yorkers a taste of the Walmart experience (and prices) and build a demand for more and presumably bigger stores. Walmart is using the economic crises as its hook to get into NYC -- after all, they argue, Walmart stories will create badly needed jobs and low prices for those in economic woe. It's an understandable if cynical strategy -- and it might just work.

This is, thankfully, not going unnoticed. Retail alliances and unions are hitting back and want to stop these moves by Walmart dead in their tracks. Many believe that Mayor Bloomberg wants to let Walmart into NYC (suprised?) but fortunately the city council is there to block it. Hopefully they won't change their mind.

Let's hope that Walmart stays out of NYC. It would hammer the NYC economy, force more smaller business to go under, help undermine the unions, and erode the city's character. If you want to learn more about what Walmart is up to, go to Walmart Watch and stay informed.

1 comment:

  1. It would hammer the NYC economy, force more smaller business to go under, help undermine the unions, and erode the city's character.


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