New York City Council Postpones Wal-Mart Hearing

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Citing a committee room too small to accommodate growing interest in a hearing next week about the economic impact of Wal-Mart opening stories in New York, the New York City Council postponed the meeting until next year, when it will be held in a larger space.

Originally planned for December 14, the hearing will now be held on January 12 at the former Emigrant Bank across the street that can hold a larger audience.  In addition, there will now be at least two hearings according to Speaker Christine Quinn, one focusing on Wal-Mart's impact on small business and a second hearing on the company's labor practices. 

"Wal-Mart has made it abundantly clear that they are refocusing on coming to New York City," said Quinn.  "Standing by and letting Wal-Mart come without any oversight, without any scrutiny would not be supporting small businesses."

Wal-Mart has yet to decide if it will send a representative to address the city council. Previously, Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said the company didn’t “entirely understand the desire to spend time and resources on a Wal-Mart specific hearing, especially when we don’t have a store or an announced project here.”

The preliminary list of invited speakers provided by Quinn’s office includes a mix of labor leaders, representatives from minority groups, community activists and academics. Many of those expected to speak include previous critics of Wal-Mart such as Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Also expected to attend is David Merriman, a professor of economics, at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studied job creation and small businesses in Chicago after Wal-Mart opened a store in the city in 2006.  The report from the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University in Chicago found “no evidence that Wal-Mart sparked any significant net growth in economic activity or employment in the area.”

Restivo at Wal-Mart said the study is flawed.  For example, he said, the report counted small businesses that closed after Wal-Mart opened the Chicago store, but did not count businesses that opened during the same time period.

The prospect of Wal-Mart opening stores in New York City is creating similar controversy here as well and pits Council Speaker Quinn, who opposes the retailer in the boroughs, against Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Wal-Mart has a legal right to open in this city,” the mayor said on Thursday. “This city is not going to get in the way of anybody coming here.”

Currently invited to the hearing "When Wal-Mart Comes to Town:"

-Matt Ryan, Director, New York Jobs with Justice/ Urban Agenda

-Stuart Applebaum, President of RWDSU

-Charles Otey, Executive/Marketing Secretary for the Merchants of Third Avenue (Bay Ridge, Brooklyn)

-Michelle Holder, Labor Market Analyst, Community Service Society

-Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Queens

-Alfredo Placeres, President, New York State Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce

-Brad Gerstman and David Schwartz, co-founders of Gotham Government Relations,

-Tom Angotti, Professor - Urban Affairs/Planning, Hunter College