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Activists resist Wal-Mart in NYC, Wal-Mart remains perplexed

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 5:24 p.m.

"Not in East New York and not in New York City," said Council Member Charles Barron while speaking with the AmNews inside City Hall. "We're declaring it a Wal-Mart free zone."

Joining Council Members Inez Barron and Melissa Mark-Viverito and members of NYC Communities for Change, Charles Barron spoke to reporters about extending an invitation for a Brooklyn Leadership Summit later on this month. With the summit including local officials, leaders and activists, the group feels that it would be high time for New York City officials to listen to the community.

They also want East New York in Brooklyn, along with the rest of the city, to become a Wal-Mart free zone. Charles Barron explains. "Annually, Wal-Mart makes $13 billion in profits," he said. "Annually, their CEO makes close to $30 million a year. The four Waltons [the family that owns Wal-Mart] are worth $20 billion each, and you want to pay workers $8 an hour? And if they work for five years, they go up to $11 an hour? And admitting that you don't have to pay for health benefits because the workers can apply for Medicaid because their wages are so low? This is a disgrace."

Several months ago, Related Companies, which owns real estate across the city, has allegedly stopped talking with supermarket chains who were interested in setting up shop on land they own near Jamaica Bay. The company's focus has allegedly shifted to landing a Wal-Mart in the area. Both Wal-Mart and Related didn't respond to AmNews requests.

With Wal-Mart having conquered virtually every part of America but the five boroughs, it looks like an unfair fight. Inez Barron sees things differently.

"Related has already established Gateway One [in East New York]," said Inez Barron. "Gateway One already has big box stores. It has a BJ's. It has a Target. It has a Home Depot. We're talking about oversaturation. We're saying that we have enough of that. They came in before we were able to mount a political challenge...but we're here now and we're gonna fight the battle."

But Wal-Mart feels that some community leaders have gotten it wrong when it comes to their company, and they believe that the activists don't represent the majority of New Yorkers.

"New Yorkers want Wal-Mart, and we want to make access to jobs and affordable groceries more convenient," said Senior Vice President of Wal-Mart U.S. Joe Venezia. "As we step up efforts to open stores here, we will continue to engage with the community to build even more support for what our brand can deliver."

To prove that point, Wal-Mart commissioned a citywide poll conducted by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, who has also polled for former President Bill Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which says New Yorkers, percentage wise, like the idea of a Wal-Mart in New York City.

According to the study, no less than 59 percent of residents in Manhattan approve of a Wal-Mart in New York. In Staten Island, 66 percent of those polled approve of a Wal-Mart in New York, while 70 percent of Queens residents like the idea, 76 percent of Brooklyn residents approve and a huge number of Bronx residents (80 percent) favor a Wal-Mart in New York City.