NEW YORK—A land of bodegas, dollar stores, and mom-and-pop retailers of various sorts, the heart of Bushwick, Brooklyn, is home to a slew of small-business owners that fear the competition Wal-Mart could bring to town.
Although Wal-Mart has not officially announced a location for New York City, some city council members have mentioned that negotiations have begun at the Gateway Center in East New York. Bushwick is about a 10-minute drive from Gateway, which is already home to big box stores like Old Navy and Home Depot.
Two City Council hearings were held in February to discuss the hypothetical effects the retail giant could have on the city that has thus far shut it out. The first hearing was broad in scope; the second focused on the company's labor practices.
Nine business owners gathered in front of 1 Stop Grocery on the corner of Bleecker Street and Irving Avenue in Bushwick on Tuesday to express their concern about the company's effect on small businesses.
“Already we have a problem with our businesses because the economy all over the world is down. So, we do [about] 60 to 70 percent less [business]. That means we are working without profit,” said Marco Reynoso, who has owned the Superstar Deli on Bleecker Street for 25 years.
Reynoso says he has already seen great changes in the area.
It is a lucrative location for development, he points out, because it is only a 15-minute ride into Manhattan on the L-train, and the M and J lines also stop in the area.
The citywide phenomenon of middle-to-upper class New Yorkers pushing into the outer boroughs where rent is cheaper, has begun in Bushwick as well.
“They like ready food better, not fast food,” says Reynoso of his changing clientele. He sells more soup and sandwiches now. “I am working that way to see what I can do to change, but honestly I don't have the money to do that,” he lamented.
The business owners all reported that their positions are already precarious, and the low prices Wal-Mart would bring to the area could be the nails in their coffins.
Edgar Andrade has owned Tang's Hardware and 99 Cent store for two years. He says he would be unable to compete with Wal-Mart's prices, as he cannot buy directly from the producers but has to go through a middleman. Wal-Mart's scale allows them to buy in bulk the way no small store could ever hope to.
A report published in 2009 by David Merriman, an economics professor at Loyola University of Chicago, showed that specialty stores like hardware shops were least effected by competition with Wal-Marts in other parts of the country. Andrade says if he just had the 99 Cent store without the hardware part, he would have already gone the route of two of his neighbors that closed shop recently.
“My backup plan is just basically eliminate the 99 Cent store, keep into the hardware more. But, still that's a big investment and it's really hard to make it,” said Andrade.
Though many of the business owners spoke vehemently against a Wal-Mart coming to their region, many local residents expressed their support for the company coming to town.
“Yes to Wal-Mart! We need jobs!” a voice shouted from a car as it drove past the gathering.
While lamenting the hardship mom-and-pop stores may experience if Wal-Mart came to the Gateway Center, Justin Morales maintains, “the amount of employees [Wal-Mart] takes in will rejuvenate the area; this area needs that.”
Morales already shops at Wal-Mart online to get goods at a cheaper price.
“A [head of] lettuce out here is $5!” exclaimed his friend, Cody Tanner, who agrees Wal-Mart would benefit the community.
Another passerby did not express an opinion on the matter either way, but simply resigned himself to what he sees as the inevitability of Wal-Mart's appearance in town, “there's going to be one here anyway.”
Congressman Charles Rangel has said Related Retail, the development company that has the contract for Gateway, got the contract on the condition that Wal-Mart would not be built there. The matter of Wal-Mart coming to Gateway still rests in City Council's hands.
A Wal-Mart spokesperson says that Wal-Mart can foster business growth in an area.
"Businesses of all sizes that can diversify themselves and take advantage of the spike in customer activity that comes with a Walmart, want to be as close to our stores as possible," stated the spokesperson in an e-mail.