Like professional soccer, Budweiser American Ale and turning off your car alarm, megaultrahyper retailer Walmart has never really caught on in New York City. But don’t think they’re sitting there in Arkansas saying to themselves: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Target Town.” News came out this week that Walmart is planning yet another New York City invasion, and this time they could land on the shores of Jamaica Bay at the new Gateway II shopping center, reports Crain’s New York.
Walmart (whose total square footage of its stores is larger than Manhattan, btw) has attempted a few other incursions into the city before. But every time they try to crack the city, community and labor groups rise up in protest and block the way. Community leaders in Jamaica Bay are already vowing a fight too, but maybe they should save their energy. Because even if Walmart does come to Brooklyn, that doesn’t mean Brooklyn will come to Walmart.
We know our average readers don’t typically live in or frequent Jamaica Bay, but a Walmart in Brooklyn is something that could affect the lives of many. Walmart is cheap, sure, but there’s a skin-crawling creepy feeling you get walking through there that makes it feel wrong, kinda like rooting for Duke or laughing at Jay Leno. Conscious shoppers have a problem with Walmart’s absolute control of the marketplace: its ability to dictate prices to undercut competitors, its anti-union stance and other uncool labor practices, its impact on the environment, etc., etc. Even its recent push into the realm of organic products reeks of factory farming and watered-down standards. But the fact is, people keep shopping there, and in droves upon droves. What is it with this blindness to unpleasant business practices in the face of low prices?
When I lived in South Carolina, people (not I) shopped at Walmart because that’s all that was around: there was no Fairway, no Book Court or Green Light, no Fulton Mall, no Sound Fix, not even a Trader Joe’s. Here in Brooklyn, people are fiercely loyal to their local businesses. The Waltons would be laughed out of town if they tried to put a store in Williamsburg or Carroll Gardens. Maybe they’re counting on better luck in the slightly more suburban Jamaica Bay.
Take a look at a site like People of Walmart, and you’ll see an overly mean attempt to pigeonhole Walmart shoppers as knuckle-dragging, Twilight-tattooed dregs of society. That’s certainly not all of Kentucky, or Texas or Virginia you’re looking at, but neither is it Brooklyn. And even if we do get a hankering for that industrial-sized bag of low-grade cheese poofs—a hankering no local business can quite satisfy—Costco and Target: we know where to find you.
In the end, maybe the Jamaica Bay community will keep the retail Goliath out. We’re rooting for it. But if not, and Walmart opens, watch Brooklynites offer up a polite “no thank you.” The store will leave, something else will move into the space and New York City will be Walmart-free once again.