Walmart is putting its money where its mouth is.
The controversial big-box is amping up its PR blitz to garner support for its first Brooklyn location — with a $4-million donation to a city program that will help more than 1,000 Brooklyn teens get jobs this summer, and sponsorship of a popular Crown Heights summer concert series.
The donation to the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which places people ages 14 through 24 in minimum wage jobs at major retail chains like Best Buy and Staples, restored 1,360 jobs in Brooklyn — 3,400 city-wide — that otherwise would have been lost due to budget cuts, said city spokeswoman Samantha Levine. Under the program, the city pays private companies to employ the workers it recommends.
That’s not all — this week Borough President confirmed that Walmart is co-sponsoring the Beep’s Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series. The big-box is dropping $150,000 to be one of the 11 companies associated with the annual Wingate Field series.
The goodwill isn’t without its political motivations, of course. The philanthropy comes as Walmart is rumored to be eyeing several potential sites, including a plot of land next to Caesar’s Bay in Gravesend, and Gateway II, a planned shopping center off the Belt Parkway in East New York, for its first foray into Brooklyn.
And its dough dole-outs are turning former foes into friends.
Borough President Markowitz, who used to say he opposed a Brooklyn Walmart because of the company’s non-union policy, was all smiles at a July 5 press conference announcing the Summer Youth Employment Program donation. He even went so far as to say “kudos” to Walmart. And now, the company’s a major sponsor of his beloved concert series, which kick off tonight with Maze.
Markowitz declined to comment further on his sudden warming up to Walmart, but he told the New York Post that “Walmart has been very generous in supporting events and initiatives throughout the city.”
Still, not all were charmed by Walmart’s altruism.
“Rather than hiding behind a fancy PR campaign and millions of dollars, Walmart needs to finally talk openly about their history of alleged discrimination and putting local mom and pops out of business,” said Eric Koch of Walmart Free NYC, which formed specifically to block Walmart from coming to Brooklyn.
And Councilman Charles Barron (D–East New York), a staunch Walmart foe, insists that the superstore will drive out more jobs than it can ever create, citing a January report commissioned by the public advocate’s office that concluded Walmart store openings kill three jobs for every two they make.
“Walmart is a retail predator,” said Barron. “And we’re not going to be bribed by this corporation’s chump change.”
Walmart declined to comment on its Brooklyn mission, saying only that “no leases have been signed in the city yet.”
The retailer has faced an uphill battle in its attempts to set up shop in Brooklyn. In April, Walmart foes urged the city not to sell land it owns to the developer of the East New York shopping center because they believe it will bring in Walmart. The mayor’s office still hasn’t decided on that land transfer.
For months, Walmart has tried to silence its critics with a major advertising campaign. In January, the company began taking out ads in dozens of local papers, including the Brooklyn Paper and Courier-Life chain, and www.walmartnyc.com/">started a website that recruits city residents to sign a petition in favor of a city store. The company also released a poll saying that 76 percent of Brooklynites would welcome the superstore.