20551 Mon, 01/31/2011 - 11:11am
“Go ahead, bite the Big Apple—don’t mind the maggots!” is a memorable line from a Rolling Stones song “Shattered,” from way back in the ’70s. Walmart might want to make it its theme song as it moves to open its first New York City store.
The world’s largest retailer is once again eyeing the nation’s biggest city, and it’s in for a fight. Not surprisingly, the anti-Walmart activists are proudly flying their pro-union, pro mom-and-pop-store flags. Meanwhile, New York City council members are rattling sabres, vowing to oppose the world’s largest retailer.
If all this sounds familiar, it should. As recently as 2007, Walmart made overtures to New York City, only to be met with a heavy hitting, union-backed smack in the chops. Lee Scott, the head of Walmart at the time, went on record as saying he would not push for New York Walmart stores. “You have people who are just better than us and don’t want a Walmart in their community,” Scott was quoted as saying.
This time, however, Walmart is taking its fight to the streets, so to speak, via the airwaves and the Internet. Walmart has saturated the New York radio market with advertisements that take a distinctly political tone. “Turn down new jobs and stop people from paying lower prices to satisfy some special interest group? It’s everything people hate about politics,” the ad says. “Things are bad out here. Stop playing politics and start creating jobs.”
Walmart makes its argument in more detail on the website walmartnyc.com. The site’s homepage is dominated by an impossible-to-miss question: “What Do New Yorkers Think About Walmart Coming to Town?” According to the accompanying pie chart, 71 percent of New Yorkers “favor” Walmart, 24 percent “oppose,” while 5 percent are “not sure.” Interestingly, in 2007, 51 percent of New Yorkers polled said they wouldn’t mind a Walmart store opening in New York City.
Walmart’s website also has a prominent “What’s at Stake,” section that’s worth a read. According to the retailer, it paid $88.4 million in New York state and local taxes last year. It said it gave $12 million to New York state charities in 2009 and has given $9 million to New York City charities over the last three years. Late last month, Walmart scored public relations points nationally when it announced that it planned to cut prices on its fresh fruit and vegetables.
The retailer also emphasizes that folks in the New York suburbs (including New Jersey) are already enjoying “economic and community benefits” of Walmart—it’s the eight million city dwellers that are missing out.
Walmart has successfully used similar tactics to open stores in cities including Washington and Chicago.
While the retailer uncharacteristically walked away from the battle for New York City a few years ago, the chain appears to have decided to take the offensive this time around.
As Mick Jagger warbles in another line from “Shattered”: To live in this town you must be tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough.