Walmart may be eying Brooklyn, but ShopRite is eying Walmart.
Representatives for the supermarket chain say they want to open a store at the proposed Gateway II shopping center on the Belt Parkway in a move that could keep Walmart — and the intense competition it would bring — out of the borough.
“We are interested in the Gateway II location,” said ShopRite spokeswoman Karen Meleta, referring to the site near the border of Queens where Walmart could set up shop without city approval.
Both companies have long been in talks with the Related Companies, the developer of the property.
Walmart and ShopRite officials have declined to comment further on the talks, but news of the showdown has Brooklynites picking sides.
“ShopRite’s wages are higher than Walmart’s and unlike Walmart, it gives its employees benefits paid in full,” said Pat Purcell, spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, which supports the ShopRite, which has one other location in Brooklyn and hires union workers.
But some residents say they prefer the Walmart.
“We need jobs and Walmart would give people in the community the opportunity to earn a decent wage,” said East New York activist Tony Herbert, who has collected 30,000 signatures in favor of a Brooklyn Walmart as part of his Walmart 2 NYC campaign. “We’ll worry about unions later, let’s get the jobs here first.”
Walmart’s quest to open in Brooklyn has infuriated some local lawmakers, who say that Walmart’s non-union policy leads to low wages.
“ShopRite is much better than Walmart because the workers are unionized,” said Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie), who has not been shy about bashing Walmart, though not other big-box stores that already operate with no controversy in his district.
The average full-time hourly wage at ShopRite is $16, while Walmart averages $13 per hour, according to the union.
Both store’s starting salaries for part-time workers can be as low as $8, according to various reports. Walmart reps argue that its salaries are fair, and that the majority of retail — including the Gateway II stores Target and Home Depot — are also non-union.
A company spokesman confirmed that Walmart’s average wage is less than that of ShopRite, but also released a report that its New York employees earn about $3,000 more per year than most Brooklyn grocery store workers.
“Walmart creates quality jobs that are as good, if not better, than the majority of businesses we compete with,” said the spokesman, Steven Restivo.
He added that Walmart does offer benefits including a health care plan that costs workers as low as $11 per pay period.
According to Walmart’s website, one of the main reasons 76 percent of Brooklynites would welcome the superstore is its convenience, as it’s a one-stop-shop for everything from clothes to food to DVDs — and many products that ShopRite doesn’t sell.
In addition, Walmart wants to utilize the entire Gateway Plaza land parcel, which is about the size of three football fields. If ShopRite ends up winning the duel for Gateway II, it would only be as large as one football field.
“ShopRite would be about a third — at most — and leave room for other retailers to share the space,” Purcell said.
Purcell added that his organization plans to counter Walmart’s recent PR blitz on Brooklyn with its own campaign in hopes to sway residents favor toward a new ShopRite instead of Walmart.
“We’ll take out ads, canvass in the neighborhood, sit down with elected officials and meet with community boards,” Purcell said.
©2011 Community News Group
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