On The Job Hunt: Wal-Mart Battles Again for New York Store

Drug store owner Wayne Lee is worried that his small pharmacy in Brooklyn, New York might be forced out of business. The problem isn’t a lack of customers, crime or the overall economy. It’s Wal-Mart.

According to Lee, if the discount chain builds its first New York City store in his neighborhood he won’t be able to compete and will have to reduce salaries to his 3 employees. He said “with Wal-Mart in our backyard we have to cut our wages and benefits to keep the business afloat, otherwise we are forced to close shop.”

In recent years Wal-Mart opponents like Lee, backed by labor unions and local politicians, have been successful in preventing Wal-Mart from opening a store in New York City. But this time Wal-Mart seems to be winning over some New Yorkers.

Supporters of Wal-Mart say a Wal-Mart store will it create desperately needed jobs. Wal-Mart spokesman Steve Restivo estimates that up to 300 workers will be hired. Resitvo says the company is eyeing sites in all of New York’s five boroughs, but a possible location in a blighted part of Brooklyn seems to be getting the most attention. A recent census shows that nearly half the areas residents are black. Unemployment among blacks in the New York City is more than 15 percent.

While New York politicians have a long history of vocally opposing Wal-Mart citing low wages, and its anti union stance, Democratic Brooklyn Assemblyman Darryl Towns hopes Wal-Mart opens a store near his district. Town asked, “Is Wal-Mart a perfect employer?” Immediately responding “no” he quickly added giving people an opportunity for employment “is a great thing.”

Among those leading the charge against Wal-Mart is Stuart Appelbaum, the President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. According to Appelbaum Wal-Mart creates low paying jobs by destroying better paying jobs in the community by driving out small businesses.

Appelbaum said he is fighting a Wal-Mart in New York City because “Wal-Marts promise of low cost comes at too high a price, devastation of the middle class.”

Wal-Mart said the opposite is true. According to Restivo “in just about every maket we do business we find that our stores are actually a magnate for growth and development.” Restivo said the 140 million weekly Wal-Mart shoppers have a “positive ripple effect in communities.”

Even though Wal-Mart does not have store in New York City, the company said last year it spent 5.7 billion dollars for merchandise and supplies with 835 city based businesses.

Next month New York’s City council will hold a public hearing on Wal-Marts plans to open a store in the Big Apple. The meeting was slated for December but had to be postponed because city officials feared the room that had been booked could not accommodate the anticipated crowd.