Labor leaders and their elected enablers cheered last week after a developer told them that Wal-Mart would not be a part of the builder’s new tower along the Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn.
But their celebration was misplaced. There is, in fact, no better place for Wal-Mart’s first New York City location than the Fulton Mall.
No, we are not naive to the concerns of union members. Wal-Mart does indeed have a spotty record regarding worker compensation and benefits, not to mention a shady environmental past and an instinct towards censoring books or CDs that its Arkansas-based executives find distasteful.
But that’s why Brooklyn is perfect for Wal-Mart. By encouraging Wal-Mart to open an urban store, Brooklyn consumers — who would quickly make this Wal-Mart the chain’s biggest-grossing store — would bend the chain towards our values, not the other way around.
For starters, the borough’s low unemployment rate would force Wal-Mart to pay reasonable wages. This is not Brooklyn, Iowa, after all. In our hometown, Wal-Mart would not find qualified staff willing to work for sub-par wages and sub-par benefits. The behemoth of Bentonville would simply have to do better.
No less important is that the Fulton Mall site is actually an ideal place for a big-box store. As a Chamber of Commerce report showed last year, Brooklynites are underserved by department stores (the crowds at Target in Atlantic Terminal Mall certainly show that). And with millions of square feet of office space — and housing — under construction throughout Downtown, the time has come for more retail.
The Chamber report, after all, showed that Brooklyn workers would prefer to shop near their offices rather than being forced to waste valuable time schlepping into Manhattan for bargains.
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It is inevitable that Wal-Mart will open in New York City — but on the Fulton Mall, such a store would not be an island in the middle of a vast parking lot that disconnects it from the neighborhood and, indeed, the very shoppers it needs to attract.
Brooklyn does not need another isolated mall like Ceasar’s Bay or Gateway at Spring Creek. Fulton Mall is well served by public transit and is surrounded by booming residential neighborhoods with hundreds of thousands of potential shoppers.
Critics say that Wal-Mart kills Mom and Pop stores. That may be true in Middle America, but the hordes of shoppers coming to a Fulton Mall location would actually enhance the profitability of many nearby businesses — again, unlike at Ceasar’s Bay or Gateway, both of which create that great “sucking sound” that Ross Perot used to talk about.
Yes, we are concerned about the company’s record on free-speech issues. Most New Yorkers are unaware that Wal-Mart is one of America’s biggest sellers of books and CDs, and when the chain’s sachems are offended by a racy book or a gritty rap album, elements of our shared culture are pulled from Wal-Mart shelves.
But Brooklyn customers would never stand for an exclusive diet of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and born-again inspirational tomes, or for not being able to pick up Nirvana, Godsmack and Sheryl Crow albums.
Like any good business, even Wal-Mart believes that the customer is always right. If Wal-Mart does come to Brooklyn, the borough and the behemoth will both be changed for the better.
©2007 Community News Group
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