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HOME > "NO" to convenience: Big businesses shunned out of historical cities

"NO" to convenience:
Big businesses shunned out of historical cities

By Jennifer Lima

      Are major corporations trying to take over the world or is it just our landmarks that interest them? It seems that historical cities like New York and Coconut Grove are fighting to keep big businesses out of their neighborhoods; fighting to keep their essence intact. Maybe these corporations don't value their historical importance as much the residents, but maybe it's a little deeper than that.

      Since early December 2004, the City of New York has been raging against opening its doors to Wal-mart. There had been talk of the megastore's eagerness to make the "Big Apple" its "next retail frontier." Wal-mart planned to open its first NYC store in Rego Park, Queens, in 2008. The developer, Vornado Realty Trust, filed a land-use application that will take seven months to process---but it doesn't seem that the city of New York is going to let this one slide.

      New York City is known for its lifestyle and its energy; it tends to be a world of its own. It's the place to find all those little Mom and Pop diners, the fancy boutiques found in Manhattan and even the grungy hangouts in Queens-making New York City the city that never sleeps.

      Although New York is known for its small businesses, wouldn't a big retailer like Wal-mart help their economy? Not exactly. The megastore is not only known for its low prices---it also has a history of labor violations, anti-union organizing and for driving independent retailers out of business.

      Studies have shown that every Wal-mart store that opens results in lost jobs, shrinkage of tax base, decline of health benefits and an increase in welfare eligibility. Overall, living standards in America decrease.

      New York is not the first to close its doors to Wal-mart. Cities in Pennsylvania, Vermont and California have also shut their doors.

      Yet not everyone in New York is opposed to the megastore coming into the city. Sheila Richardson, a resident of Corona, Queens, says "I like Wal-mart... and once a week I drive to Wal-mart in Hempstead or Westbury and even where I grew up, in Albany. It would be good to have a Wal-mart nearby." Small business owners disagree. "I'm a small retailer. How can I compete with them?" said Lenny Karp, whose family has owned Austin Shoes since 1942.

      Unfortunately New York isn't the only city battling unwanted businesses. Coconut Grove, Florida, is also in a debate over a Home Depot being built in their area. Since Home Depot purchased the lease on the Coconut Grove K-mart in early Summer 2004, its residents have been up in arms. Coconut Grove is known for its historical feel. Like New York, the city is its own world---in which many feel a Home Depot doesn't belong.

      In their defense, Home Depot manager Alex Lima says "In my opinion, we'd bring growth, jobs, low prices & a great selection to the community." But is that all they'd bring? Definitely not. They'd also bring noise, truck traffic, parking problems and inconvenience to its residential neighbors. Many residents also lament that trees, many of them old oaks, will be chopped down to make room for the overflow parking.

      Aleina Adam, a Coconut Grove resident, says "It's going to displace a supermarket that is already there, eradicate what has always been there and put a lot of people out of work. Then it will decide it doesn't like the area because it is a residential area but by then it will have already disgruntled everyone." -- and they'll have left behind another big, "empty box" store.

      While this issue remains unsolved, New York has won their debate. On February 23, 2005, Vornado Realty Trust announced that it was dropping its plans to include a Wal-mart in its Queens shopping center. Wal-mart has yet to comment on why it fell through, but does state that they continue to explore many possible sites in the city. For now, New York City stays as it should-- whether the same fate awaits the Grove remains to be seen.

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