Walmart Wants to Rollback Decency in New York City

Why We Should Try as Hard as Possible to Prevent Our Concrete Jungle from Becoming Small Town, U.S.A.


Remember in “Wall-E” how that giant chain “Buy ‘N Large” took over the world and ruined it for everyone? (Jared C. Benedict on 22 February 2004/Flickr Commons)

Published: February 2, 2011

Over the break, I had the unfortunate experience of catching an overpriced and overcrowded plane to Florida the day before Christmas Eve to visit relatives. It’s not that I didn’t want to see them, but the prospect of spending three weeks in a small southern town with an overabundance of churches and strip malls didn’t quite appeal to the staunch city girl in me.

During the car ride home from the airport in Orlando, we passed countless Walmart super stores. At first, I thought we were driving in circles. The white exterior with the store name plastered up top in flashing blue letters seemed to close in on our tiny two-door Honda.

For a native New Yorker accustomed to patronizing vintage shops and hole-in-the-wall boutiques, these monstrously huge stores made me dizzy. Any originality the town may have possessed was stifled by these towering behemoths that looked like carbon copies of each other.

I could just envision every house on my block donning the same cheaply constructed photo frames on the living room walls and the same salmon bathroom rugs, all in the name of saving a few extra dollars.

And if you think you’re safe in a city bursting with diversity and creativity, think again. Walmart has its sights set on infiltrating the greatest city in the world.

According to the store’s New York City Web site, 71 percent of polled residents approve of Walmart opening its doors in the city. Walmart has been advertising itself with the catch phrase “Helping NYC Save Money and Live Better.”

But have New Yorkers been duped by the promises of this mega store? My findings convince me that they have.

While the cheap prices can give a bit of relief to the many cash-strapped city residents, these finds come with a hefty hidden cost we’ll have to pay for years to come. Besides sucking the beauty out of neighborhoods, Walmart has a history of abusing its associates, producing low quality merchandise using sweatshop labor and censoring musicians.

For example, “Store-Wars: When Walmart Comes to Town,” a 2002 film aired on PBS and various stations across the country, reported that the average Walmart employee takes home a weekly wage that is not enough to survive on. And in this unwaveringly anti-union company, employees make 25 percent less than unionized workers after two years on the job.

Since this places employees with families below the poverty line, guess who will have to subsidize their salaries? We, the taxpayers. An article published by The Seattle Times in 2006 reported that it cost the state of Washington over 12 million dollars per year to provide government benefits to poor Walmart workers.

So the next time you’re wheeling that silver shopping cart around and tossing in every sale item in sight, think of the sales associates who are struggling to provide for their families on a salary that can barely cover rent. And that overflowing cart will cost us all later in the form of tax dollars.

It’s even harder to feel good about those cheap prices when a vast majority of the items sold in stores are produced in Third World sweatshops. According to a 2008 report by activist group SweatFree Communities, Walmart has purchased items made under extreme conditions in sweatshops in Bangladesh. When they say extreme, don’t think minimum wage and a short lunch break. Workers were made to work 19-hour shifts and subjected to beatings when schedules weren’t being met, all for less than $20 a month.

Walmart is the world’s largest CD retailer. With that comes a great deal of power. Groups from Nirvana to that band everyone forgets the name of create “sanitized” versions of their albums specifically for the mega store.

For example, Nirvana had the packaging for In Utero reworked in 1994 when Walmart refused to sell the album because it featured human fetuses on the cover. The fetus art was replaced by flowers for copies sold in Walmart stores.

And if these artists refuse, Walmart could simply refuse to sell their work. Off limits include lyrics dealing with sex, abortion and homosexuality. Albums with the explicit content label are automatically banned from shelves unless artists agree to create a clean version. In a largely progressive-minded city, how could we stand by as this store censors creative freedom?

So who is really saving money? Who is really living better in the end? Walmart executives who profit off human ignorance and misery.

Don’t be fooled: what shopping at Walmart will cost you later outweighs any benefits reaped right now.

I’m willing and ready to keep clipping coupons for the sake of keeping New York Walmart free. I have four words for Walmart: not in my city.