Wal-Mart scouting city sites again

A Wal-Mart may yet grow in New York City.
More than five years after the retail giant made a play for opening stores in Queens and Staten Island, the company is again ratcheting up its efforts to make a play to enter the city’s market.

However, many local legislators and community leaders – a number who helped defeat the retail giant’s attempt five years ago – are expected to oppose the move, citing a poor track record of how the company has treated its employees and potentially devastating effects on existing small businesses.
“I don’t like them coming to New York City because they end up putting all of the mom and pop stores out of business,” said Queens City Councilmember Mark Weprin, who represents northeast Queens and chairs the City Council Committee on Zoning and Franchises.
According to a citywide poll commissioned by Wal-Mart and conducted by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, 70 percent of Queens residents said they favored Wal-Mart coming to the city. The poll surveyed 1,000 city residents from December 2 through December 7, and it has a 3 percent margin of error.
In addition, sales data from Wal-Mart showed that New Yorkers spent $165 million at Wal-Mart stores outside of the city during the past 12 months, with the largest amount coming from Queens at $80.2 million.
“New Yorkers want Wal-Mart, and we want to make access to jobs and affordable groceries more convenient,” said Joe Venezia, Senior Vice President, Wal-Mart U.S. “As we step up efforts to open stores here, we will continue to engage with the community to build even more support for what our brand can deliver.”
Many Wal-Mart supporters – and even some detractors – acknowledged that the city’s economic climate today is very different from five years ago, and that a large project like this would undoubtedly put money into the city’s struggling coffers while creating hundreds of jobs for local residents.
Weprin said that a Wal-Mart store would certainly create jobs, but he said that it would be more like “substituting jobs” because many smaller businesses would be forced to close down because they couldn’t compete with the retail company. In addition, he said that bringing a Wal-Mart to the city would certainly change the fabric of the city.
“It sounds great in theory, but you’re going to turn the whole world into a small town, American town that has none of the flavor and excitement of New York City,” Weprin said.
The City Council was scheduled to begin holding hearings on the prospects of Wal-Mart opening a store, or stores, in the city this month, but it pushed back its hearing until January. The Council would need to approve a zoning change if the project is greater than 10,000 square feet.
Steven Restivo, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart, would not say if the company was eyeing any specific sites in the borough, but he said that “we are evaluating opportunities – small, medium and large – across all five boroughs.”
“I can tell you our real estate selection process has been centered on under-served communities in terms of jobs and access to affordable food,” Restivo continued.
Restivo also said there are “as of right” sites, which would allow the company to build a store without approval for the Council, in the city and that the company may explore that option as well.
City Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who represents southeast Queens and is the Chair of the Council’s Land Use Committee, did not want to comment specifically on Wal-Mart prior to the Council hearings, but he did say that more needs to be looked at in terms of how large, chain stores treat their employees.
“We need to focus on how we protect people in retail because what they’re doing to them is make them work part-time or not giving them enough hours to accumulate union or health benefits,” Comrie said.