Wal-Mart Takes Aim at Critics as Opponents Prep for (Delayed) Hearing

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The back-and-forth between Wal-Mart and its opponents heated up in the days before a city council hearing to examine the retailer. But due to the pending snowstorm expected to blanket the city on Wednesday, the council postponed the hearing until Feb. 3.

The hearing had already been rescheduled from a previous date in December in order to find a larger room to hold the expected crowd.

The decision to change the hearing comes after Wal-Mart launched an advertising blitz on Monday attacking “special interest” groups that have criticized the retailer.

The coordinated media strategy is part of a campaign by the Arkansas-based retailer to build local support as it searches to open stores throughout the five boroughs.

Radio ads will air this week on major commercial news stations like WCBS and WABC, as well sports channel WFAN and music stations like WRKS. Tusk Strategies, run by Bradley Tusk, created the radio ads. Tusk was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s former campaign manager.

The print ads will run in the New York Post and Daily News and 30 community newspapers. The ads tout a recently commissioned Wal-Mart survey that found more than seven in 10 residents support the retailer opening stores in the city.

And Wal-Mart is also sending direct mail fliers to residents in 10 City Council districts. 

The front of the mailer reads, “Some New Yorkers have plenty of choice when it comes to shopping…” superimposed over a photo of 5thAve. in Manhattan. The back reads, “We think you should too!” over a picture of the interior of a Wal-Mart. 

The tagline for the ads and mailers reads, “My Money.  My Choice.”

A representative for Wal-Mart said this media campaign is just the beginning.

But it’s also just the beginning for Wal-Mart’s critics. 

On Tuesday, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio released a report from Hunter College that reviewed 50 studies over seven years analyzing the impact of Wal-Mart on the national and local economies. 

The authors blasted Wal-Mart and said its stores lead to job losses in communities; cost taxpayers money due to employees receiving public healthcare; and contributed to the decline in middle class wages. 

The authors of the report were Tom Angotti, professor of urban affairs at Hunter; Brian Paul with Hunter’s Center for Community Planning and Development; and Tom Gray and Dom Williams at the Public Advocates’ office.

The authors concluded, “It is critical that every branch of New York City government play a role in keeping out the mega retailer.”  They said the city should change its zoning rules and require reviews for all stores with more than 15 outlets regardless of size. This change would include all chain stores.

Wal-Mart’s community affairs manager, Philip Serghini, suggested the City Council consider just that. In a letter to the three officials holding tomorrow’s hearing about Wal-Mart, Serghini wrote, “Since we have not announced a store for New York City, I respectfully suggest the committee first conduct a thoughtful examination of the existing impact of large grocers and retailers on small businesses before embarking on a hypothetical exercise.”

He said Wal-Mart would not participate in the hearing.

The result could be a largely an event consisting largely of Wal-Mart's opponents and ratchet up even further the on-going public fight over the retailer and its planned expansion into New York City.