Walmart announced this week that it won’t be opening a store off the Belt Parkway, but the big-box store’s plans for Brooklyn are not over.
The controversial retail giant, which has been accused by critics of undercutting neighboring businesses and preventing its workers from unionizing, was long-rumored to be planning to open its first store in New York City at the proposed Gateway II shopping center in East New York, but those plans were scuttled last Friday when Walmart officials said that they couldn’t hammer out a deal with developers.
“We were unable to agree upon economic terms for a project in East New York,” said Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo — his first acknowledgement that the big box chain was even looking at the neighborhood as a possible location.
Instead of a Walmart, a ShopRite supermarket will anchor the new shopping plaza once it’s built, Related Companies, which is building the shopping center, announced last week.
But Walmart critics say the company has showered several Southern Brooklyn non-profit organizations with donations, and joined the fight to clean up Jamaica Bay — and the chain isn’t going to let its investment in the borough go to waste.
“This is more of a victory for Brooklyn labor than a defeat for Walmart,” said Patrick Purcell, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is lauding Related’s decision to work with ShopRite. The new supermarket will create more than 1,000 local jobs, union officials say.
Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie), a longtime opponent of Walmart who staged several rallies against the giant, celebrated Walmart’s failure to get a toehold on East New York, but is now turning his usually suspicious gaze upon ShopRite.
“We want to take a look at the supermarket’s history,” said Joy Simmons, Councilman Barron’s chief of staff. “We have to make sure they’ve been good corporate citizens and that they’ll be an asset to the community.”
Restivo refused to comment on questions regarding Walmart’s plans for Brooklyn, but he made it clear in his statement that the retailer still has New York City in its sights.
“Two things remain constant: most New Yorkers want us here and we remain interested in providing more convenient access to Walmart for local residents,” said Restivo, harking back to last year’s Quinnipiac pol that said 71 percent of Brooklynites would welcome a Walmart if it opened in Brooklyn. “Walmart will continue to evaluate local opportunities across all five boroughs.”
Currently, a Walmart could open anywhere: scaled-down versions of the retailer’s big box stores called “Walmart Express” are about half the size of a PathMark, allowing the chain to open on major business thoroughfares in Coney Island, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Park Slope.Reach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cn