When Wal-Mart Comes To Town

Wal-Mart has over 4,000 stores across the country, but none of them are in New York City. The company has tried unsuccessfully to open stores before in the region, but is now making a concerted effort to secure locations in all five boroughs.

That has many civic leaders -- from politicians to union chiefs -- concerned about how jobs and small businesses will be affected.

“Every place Wal-Mart goes, they promise to create jobs,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “They don’t create new jobs, they bring jobs that close down small businesses.” 

Quinn is leading a hearing this Wednesday into Wal-Mart.  She said it would probably be the first of several such hearings. 

Steven Restivo, director of community affairs for Wal-Mart, said the retailer has not decided if it will attend.

“The hearing to me is particularly curious because it seems to ignore the fact that the city is currently home to hundreds of stores that are similar to Wal-Mart,” he said.

Critics of the retailer believe Wal-Mart stores in New York will hurt small businesses and create low-paying, low-benefit jobs.

Wal-Mart disputes those arguments and says the average hourly pay for employees in New York State is $12.21, compared to a minimum wage of $7.25.

Wal-Mart’s new push to open in New York City is part of a larger effort to open in cities across the country where it has few or no stores. Unlike previous efforts, the retailer is now exploring opening stores of various sizes and formats, not just the supercenters that dominate suburban shopping centers.

The move comes as the world’s largest retailer has seen sales fall for six quarters in a row at U.S. stores open for more than a year. And while the retailer still has healthy profits -- it reported a 9.3 percent increase in income in the third quarter -- those profits have been coming largely from keeping costs down and from growth overseas.

“We just see a real opportunity in some of the more densely populate areas across the country,” said Restivo.

Restivo said residents of New York City already spend $165 billion at stores in New Jersey and on Long Island.  And if they can’t drive to Wal-Marts outside of the city, they are ordering online. New York City is the retailer’s number one market for its online division.

That doesn’t mean, however, it will find support from politicians and union leaders. A recent poll found of New York City residents found that 71 percent favor the retailer opening stores in the city. Critics quickly dismissed the poll as it commissioned by Wal-Mart.

“The vast majority of opinions are, we don’t Wal-Mart in New York City,” said Speaker Quinn.