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Harlem says no to Wal-Mart

CRAIG D FRAZIER Special to AmNews | 10/13/2011, 2:31 p.m.

Last week, rumors of Wal-Mart coming to Harlem mobilized a grassroots coalition of small businesses, community leaders, elected officials and local residents in protest. As speakers approached the podium on the corner on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, the crowd erupted, chanting, "Wal-Mart is no good for our neighborhood!" They sent a clear message, whether the rumor is true or not, that Wal-Mart is not welcome in Harlem.

Community leaders say that Wal-Mart poses a threat to mom-and-pop stores that provide good jobs. "I have tried since my days in the City Council to get a living wage bill. Stores like Wal-Mart would have to provide the workers in the community with the kind of wages that would enable them to live. Wal-Mart will not pay a living wage," said State Sen. Bill Perkins, whose constituents live and shop in Harlem.

"This community was built by small entrepreneurs who give employment opportunities to people in the community, especially our young people who have a crisis level of unemployment," he continued. "I am here on behalf of the community to say we don't want Wal-Mart on any corner in this area or in this district."

According to a recent study by the Alliance for a Greater New York, Wal-Mart would have to open 159 stores in New York City to reach the 21 percent grocery share it has achieved in suburban markets. They say the result would be an estimated loss of more than $353 million in wages per year for retail. On the other hand, Wal-Mart, thirsty for urban growth, promises economic growth, jobs, a commitment to diversity and smaller stores.

Steven Restivo, senior director of community affairs, said that Wal-Mart could help with the city's unemployment problem and is focusing its real estate search on low-income neighborhoods, where there is a lack of access to fresh food. Although Restivo didn't say whether Wal-Mart was coming to Harlem, he did issue the following statement.

"We still do not have any announced stores in New York City," he said. "However, every statistic-from independent polling and shopping behavior to petition signatures and Facebook likes-shows that the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers think Wal-Mart can be part of the solution in the city for folks who want jobs or need more affordable grocery options in their own neighborhood."