There’s no doubt that shopping locally has a positive impact on the community. Not only does shopping locally give small business owners a chance to thrive, but New Yorkers support mom-and-pop shops and those who employ their workers because they represent us, our neighborhoods and our values.
A major reason why we don’t have many big-box retailers in Queens and the rest of our highly populated city is because they provide a lot of rhetoric but little substantial action. Many of these corporations pledge to provide quality, livable jobs during the development process but fail to deliver on promises once the store opens its doors for business.
The value of a good job is far more important than having discounted goods — especially when those savings come at the expense of workers, their health and safety, and our communities.
When malls and other shopping centers try to make their way into our neighborhoods, there is hesitation and resistance because large shopping malls often look to mega-retailers as anchor tenants, without regard to the impact they will have on community and job standards. Before signing off on bringing more big-box stores and low-wage jobs into our area, it is important to ensure the types of jobs created will support families and products sold are of high quality.
As of late, many companies like Walmart and fast-food chains are being spotlighted for their poor treatment of workers and unsavory working conditions that put many lives at risk. Companies with a history of irresponsible labor conditions should not have a place in Queens or anywhere else in the city.
Small business-friendly districts prosper and our communities thrive when jobs created provide opportunities for workers and their families to succeed. Therefore, it is imperative for residents and politicians to understand the importance of responsible economic development.
Every phase of the development process is crucial, and community leaders, developers and elected officials can ensure it is done responsibly. Take the Kingsbridge Armory development in the Bronx, for example.
In 2009, a national developer proposed opening shops that would’ve brought 1,200 jobs to the area. Labor, community and clergy allies, along with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., made demands for guarantees of so-called “living wage” pay that the developer would have to get from all the retailers.
“The notion that any job is better than no job no longer applies,” said Diaz. In April, after years of contentious debate, KNIC Partners, LLC agreed to bring the world’s largest indoor ice skating facility to the Kingsbridge Armory — along with 260 permanent jobs and nearly 900 construction jobs. After negotiations with local elected officials and community leaders, the developer signed a historic community benefits agreement promising to pay a living wage to workers, hire staff locally, and provide 50,000 square feet of community space.
This is the type of relationship that should exist when developers and retailers want to enter our communities — one in which businesses, workers and residents benefit.
Downtown Jamaica is currently home to a development project that will be turned into a retail strip. Now more than ever, we must count on our leaders to ensure that new developments will include decisions that benefit us all.
That means local hiring, bringing in companies that pay their workers a sustainable wage and treat them with respect, and leasing to retailers that value the impact their stores have on neighborhoods.
Anything that doesn’t keep our communities front and center should not be considered for this new retail development in downtown Jamaica.
Javier Valdes is co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, an advocacy group.