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Know Your Rights
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Bushwickers Sound Off on Possible Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart is definitely not coming to Bushwick — but the prospect of its move into a retail complex on the borough’s southern or eastern edges has many residents salivating for savings.

The global retail giant’s interest in opening a location in New York City has been well documented since last May, when papers learned that the company was quietly inquiring about availabilities in the Gateway II mall complex in East New York — the end point of the B13 bus.

Protests followed and were reignited in December, led by Councilman Charles Barron (D-East New York), who threatened to pressure state leaders not to sell the 20-acre state-owned plot to the Related Companies, which have been negotiating with Wal-Mart exclusively as the anchor tenant of the site.

Whether it is in East New York, Kings Highway in Flatbush, or elsewhere, Wal-Mart appears driven to open one of its big-box retail outlets in Brooklyn, Queens, and other sites as soon as this year.

The company launched an aggressive public relations campaign to build support for opening a store in the city, with a snappy website trumpeting a poll showing a majority of New Yorkers favor a Wal-Mart within city limits. This in turn caused opponents such as union leaders and Public Advocate Bill De Blasio to point to their own poll showing broad opposition to the store’s New York location.

In Bushwick, reaction to the news of a possible Wal-Mart opening nearby is typically mixed.

Businesses up and down Knickerbocker Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, and Broadway that feature products one could likely buy at a Wal-Mart — for a lower price — may have reasons for concern.

"It would be a disaster," said Sandy, who works at Party Fair on Knickerbocker Avenue. Forget it. Then all the stores would go."

But Bushwick shoppers, such as Allison Thomas, embraced having a store nearer to the neighborhood.

"They need to open one out here," said Thomas. "The closest one is in Long Island. It sucks. Who wants to lug their stuff on the bus?"

And Gail Rivera, who also works at Party Fair, agreed, arguing that it would bring jobs to Brooklyn.

"I would love a Wal-Mart," said Rivera. "We need a Wal-Mart out here. They should put it in Red Hook. They already have a Target and BJs out there. I think people would make the effort to go there."

Community Board 4’s District Manager Nadine Whitted told BushwickBK she would probably drive to Wal-Mart, and would more likely go if it was in Spring Creek in East New York as opposed to Flatbush, but she would continue to shop heavily in her neighborhood for groceries and other products easily available.

She endorsed the company’s entry into the local market because it could provide jobs to Bushwick residents.

"I think it’s a good idea personally," said Whitted. "It can be accessible. Wal-Mart will hopefully provide some job opportunities for some people. If people aren’t working, hopefully the unemployed can be employed."

CB4 board member Austen Martinez seconds Whitted’s attitude, saying he would shop there, too. "We need big stores here."

But Adam Schwartz, a teacher in Bushwick, said his "heart says no" and "keep it away from me," despite the tantalizingly low prices of items such as air conditioners, microwave ovens, and hardware store tools.

And Bushwick resident Katie Lyon-Hart said that the company’s history of threatening small businesses should be taken seriously.

"Bushwick’s workforce is mostly low-income and oft-exploited," said Lyon-Hart. "I don’t see how a Wal-Mart is going to help that."

City leaders are split on the issue, and some, such as Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick), who heads the City Council’s Committee on Small Business, are so far non-committal.

"Small businesses are essential to the vitality of New York City," said Reyna. "My colleagues and I encourage a strong debate and want to have an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons at the same table – open up a dialogue to generate a comprehensive assessment."

Ambivalence, too, is widespread, illustrated by Bushwick resident Miriam Cruz, who thinks the company doesn’t pay its workers well but would likely shop at the store because of its low prices.

Or Chris Harding, who doesn’t like Wal-Mart but said he would probably end up there anyway.

"I would surely be found waiting on the sidewalk for my wife to help her carry all that crap home," he said.

For original article, click here.