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In situation eerily similar to Monroe

April 14, 2011

(NEW YORK, NY) -- You think the fight to keep Walmart out of communities is relegated only to small towns across America like Monroe?

In the Big Apple they’re screaming bloody murder and fighting tooth and nail over Walmart’s plans to establish, for the first time, a beachhead in the gigantic, urban retail market that is New York City.

And as in Monroe, many fear that once Walmart gets in, there goes the neighborhood.

Opponents of Walmart have implored the Bloomberg administration – which is pro Walmart - to delay the sale of a parcel of city-owned land to real estate developer the Related Cos., which is believed to be in talks with Walmart to locate at the site in East New York.

The scenario is not unlike what happened in Monroe with Walmart and the Sabey Corporation in Seattle.

Many feel that Walmart used the Sabey company as a Trojan Horse of sorts to fly under the radar so company plans to get into the city would not be discovered by the Sky Valley community at large until it was too late for residents to effectively organize against the retailer.

In addition many in the community, including a former long time Monroe city councilman, feel they were lied to by Monroe’s Mayor and the city council.

Some believe city officials were entangled with the large retailer in a manner that served to prevent the community at large from finding out much earlier that Walmart was coming.

This, in turn they feel put the community at a disadvantage in organizing to fight the retailer’s presence here.


In New York opponents of Walmart have charged the land in question was undervalued – again, somewhat similar to the situation here in Monroe where some residents feel the city left far too much money on the table in selling the land to the Sabey Corporation and in addition inexplicably paying Sabey's broker almost twice the going rate for that type of deal, according to local real estate people in the Sky Valley.

In the Big Apple, opponents to Walmart have asked a panel representing Mayor Bloomberg to reassess the land value before recommending the sale to Related to build a “mixed-use development” of retail and housing.

The property was appraised based on a projection that it would include a 406,000-square-foot retail center. But opponents claim zoning for the site allows for a much larger retail center, which in turn would jack up the land's value.

Bloomberg aides say the appraisal is accurate and have given no indication they are going to delay the $35 million sale of 26 acres of land for the project, known as Gateway II.

Related is believed to be in talks with Walmart executives, though neither party has confirmed that.

Again, not unlike Monroe where residents did not know how long Walmart had been using the Sabey Corporation as a quiet “front man,” they believe, or precisely when Monroe city officials realized they were dealing with Walmart attempting to get into the city via the cover of the Sabey Corporation.

Sabey ostensibly wanted to buy land from the city to develop it and then later would lease out that land to a tenant and act as landlord. But Sabey quickly flipped the land to Walmart in a sale.

The land appraisal angle in New York is just the latest in the opposition's effort to block Walmart because of what it considers unfair employment policies, such as not letting workers form unions.

Walmart advertises it is committed to giving consumers many choices in products at low prices but the biggest retailer in the world does not wish to allow its workers in America a choice on whether they want to join a union.

New recruits at stores have been known to be forced to sit through an anti-union propaganda film as part of their indoctrination into the “Walmart culture.”


In New York, Bloomberg spokesman Andrew Brent said the sale "will help pave the way for the development of more than 2,200 affordable housing units for thousands of New Yorkers, the addition of new retail stores and the creation of hundreds of new jobs."

As in Monroe, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will not take a stand on Walmart's potential entry into the city, even though many of its dues paying members may suffer varying degrees of economic harm if Walmart opens up shop there.

The chamber’s members are split on the question of, “Are you in favor of Walmart opening a store in New York City?”

Among the more than 300 chamber respondents to that question, a slim majority of 53% favored the retailer coming to town, and 47% opposed its arrival.

Walmart has joined all five boroughs' chambers of commerce.


Walmart's recent history seems to indicate that as a major component of it’s entry strategy into a city, it opts to bypass any meaningful dialogue with members of a community at large, choosing instead to focus efforts on sending teams of PR people, land buyers and other emissaries to quietly get close to, and influence, local elected officials and chambers of commerce officials as well as secure land without letting communities know it is the potential buyer. A recent program on CNBC showed Walmart executives in an unmarked van out scouting new land for locating stores.

It is an effective strategy.

It means Walmart can secure land quietly at a favorable price and then need only win over and harness the support of a handful of people in any community, instead of attempting in an open forum to win over the larger community in an open debate about whether the retailer is good fit for a given city or town.

Walmart tends to carefully avoid any large public forums attended by large numbers of citizens where its corporate practices can be questioned in open debate.

The corporation seems to prefer the tightly controlled, rigidly orchestrated confines and protocols of city council meetings where typically residents have only a few minutes to voice their opinions, and at that long after Walmart has already solidified its strategic inroads and alliances with city officials and other power brokers using PR teams and land buyers.

Here in the Monroe area there appeared to be no spontaneous grass roots, ground level support for Walmart as there was opposition. During the several large picket rallies against the retailer staged in Monroe at HIghway 2 & North Kelsey Street, a Sky Valley Chronicle reporter did not observe one, let alone a group, of pro Wall Mart supporters picketing for the Walmart's presence in the city.

Walmart flooded the area with thousands of large, full-color direct mail pieces and took ads out in several newspapers asking residents to please come to city council meetings and show their support for the company. Without such a large, well funded PR effort to drum up visible community support it is an open question how many people, if any, would have ever come forward in a public forum to say they wanted a huge Walmart store in the community.

A Sultan city council member announced at one such meeting he was there because he heard Walmart was handing out free T-Shirts. And It was.

The attempt to keep Walmart out of New York City comes at a time when the retailer needs to expand into New York and other urban areas as part of its new marketing strategy. The company needs exposure to a huge pool of new buyers to keep up its growth rate.

Fourth-quarter sales at U.S. stores open at least a year were down 1.8%, worse than they expected. Overall domestic sales fell in the fourth quarter by 0.5% to $71.1 billion.



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