For years, Walmart has tried to open a location in the five boroughs, but pushback from workers unions and the City Council have cast the superstore behemoth back to the suburbs.
Most recently, the retail giant intended to open shop in Brooklyn but was shot down by the Council in the fall of 2012, and it seemed as though the company had largely abandoned Operation: Get into New York City, for good.
But last week, a business blog called “The Commercial Observer” reported that Walmart has not given up on the city and that the chain has its eyes set on Ridgewood.
Though no specific locations were mentioned, the business blog wrote that some of the industrial buildings and vacant lots that are sprinkled across the Brooklyn-Queens border are being looked at.
A Walmart representative would not respond to requests for comment but civic leader and Maspeth resident Charlene Stubbs is one who says she’d be okay with the discount chain setting up shop.
“They said it’s an industrial area on the border of Ridgewood and Brooklyn so it’ll bring some light into the neighborhood over there,” she said. “There are abandoned buildings and prostitutes over there and I’ll tell you, I’d rather see a Walmart open up in one of those buildings then see all of those ‘For sale’ and ‘For rent’ signs everywhere.”
If the rumors prove true, this will not be Walmart’s first attempt to open a store in Queens. In 2005, Walmart was working with Vornado Realty Trust to include a store in The Shops at Atlas Park shopping complex. But the backlash from unions, community members and elected officials led the developer to drop its plans.
Similarly, in 2006, an Ohio real estate company dropped plans to open a site in Staten Island with Walmart as well.
“I think they have to do it the right way this time,” City Council candidate Craig Caruana said. “You don’t want them to open and have all of the smaller stores close down. That being said, their prices are extremely low and you can get everything there and for the working middle class, that means a lot. I wouldn’t want to see it in the middle of Metropolitan Avenue where there are a lot of stores already but an industrial place that really doesn’t have anything going on would be a great thing for the area.”
Conversely, Caruana’s opponent, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) was outwardly opposed to the idea of a Walmart coming to Ridgewood.
“Walmart has a long, documented history of mistreating its workers and driving out local small businesses,” she said in an email. “Bringing in this store would negatively impact both the commercial and residential areas in Ridgewood, which I have worked so hard with the community to preserve.”
But if the company is looking to open in an area with almost no residential buildings that is largely industrial, would it have less of an effect on small businesses?
“A Walmart would be a death knell to industrial and manufacturing businesses in Maspeth,” Coordinator of the Maspeth Industrial Business Association Jean Tanler said. “It would drive up real estate prices, which are already high for businesses due to the scarcity of size-appropriate industrial space. In addition, if they were to locate within the industrial area, it would signal to property owners that the city condones the conversion of industrial land to commercial or residential use, which would further erode the availability of space.”
But not all community groups were ready to take a stance on Walmart.
Ted Renz, the executive director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, reported that the association has not decided whether or not it will support the idea of a Walmart. Renz did say he would speak on behalf of himself though.
“I have heard mention of these smaller-scale Walmarts which I feel would create less reason for concern,” he said. “A large Walmart would severely impact the community but the idea of a smaller store that doesn’t have all the things the superstores have could work.”
These “smaller-scale” Walmarts would be about 20,000 square feet, well below the traditional 150,00-square-foot supercenters that have saturated suburban areas across the country.
Despite the pushback, a Quinnipiac University poll released in 2011 reports that 54 percent of New Yorkers said elected officials should allow Walmart to open in the city and 68 percent said they would shop at a city Walmart.
“People have strong feelings about Walmart,” Caruana said. “Walmart is huge in the South, for example. But it’s like anything else, we have to make sure this is done in the right way.”
An argument that is often made by Walmart and its supporters is that the stores provide thousands of jobs in the community which will, in turn, better the local economy.
Adam Friedman of the Pratt Center for Community Development, an group that specializes in urban sustainability, didn’t agree.
“Walmart uses primarily part-time workers,” he said. “So the idea that Walmart is bringing in so many jobs is really misguided. Bringing a Walmart to an industrial area will destabilize the real estate market. Also, one thing that is important to remember is that it’s not only about the manufacturers leaving, this would trigger a downward spiral. New York City is the densest urban environment in the country. If you build something on one street, it’s going to have a ripple effect on the whole area.”
The question of the effect big box stores have on the industrial sector has been a long-debated issue. In fact, Community Board 5 will be reviewing a proposal to create a Ridgewood Industrial Business Zone — an initiative set up by Mayor Bloomberg to preserve the manufacturing sector by ensuring properties within the zones be used for industrial businesses only.
However, the exact IBZ regulations are murky as many have been infiltrated by hotels, residential buildings and big box stores.
Regardless, no confirmations have been made by Walmart of Ridgewood becoming one of their newest locations —superstore or otherwise.