Democratic City Council Candidates Speak Out Against Walmart, Offer Plans To Support Small Businesses
It looks like yesterday’s post about Republican City Council candidate David Storobin supporting the push for a New York City Walmart generated quite a bit of discussion, and we thought it important to take that one step further. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, may have given the city’s small businesses a temporary reprieve when they gave up their fight in 2012, but it’s unlikely they’ve surrendered the war to enter one of the nation’s largest urban retail markets.
So we decided to check in with the Democratic candidates to see where they stand on Walmart, since it will likely come up for the next councilmember. The results? All four of the leading Democratic candidates in the race to replace the 48th District’s term-limited Michael Nelson vow to fight any effort to bring Walmart to New York City, and rolled out plans to support the area’s struggling small businesses.
“Walmart? No. Not in Brooklyn,” Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo bluntly stated as soon as the retailer’s name was mentioned.
Flatbush Shomrim founder and candidate Chaim Deutsch agreed, and said the city should be encouraging the small businesses to give back to the community, not squeezing them for more revenue and rolling out the welcome mat for the competition.
“When you start bringing in department stores, they push out mom-and-pop stores. Yeah, there’s bargains, but if you give incentives to small businesses [to give back to the community], that’s what I think we need to focus on,” Deutsch said.
Scavo said the big box megastore is a threat to neighborhood businesses and is a poor salve to unemployment.
“No one has job security,” she said of the non-unionized jobs at the retailer.
She added that as a small business owner for 26 years, she saw first-hand how big department stores can hurt a mom-and-pop’s bottom line. She operated a jewelry store in Ceasar’s Bay for some time, beginning when it was just a flea market – and ending when it ultimately became a department store-filled strip mall.
“When I first started in business, it was called a flea market (at Ceasar’s Bay) … then that started becoming passe. We’re talking, it was the place for retail in Brooklyn. And then, as these megastores opened, business kept dwindling and dwindling,” said Scavo.
That threat, she said, was abetted by the emergence of credit card policies that hurt small retailers because of minimum charges and the siphoning off of already meager revenue – problems that big department stores that allow all-in-one shopping didn’t have to face. That’s in addition to the city’s fines.
In fact, all of the candidates in the race spoke out against the threat of Walmart to small businesses and the social mobility of the employees.
District Leader Ari Kagan’s campaign manager Jake Oliver sent the following statement by e-mail:
Ari is very concerned about the impact Wal-Mart would have on neighborhood small businesses – such as pharmacies, hardware stores and clothing retailers – who are already struggling to make ends meet, especially after Superstorm Sandy. Additionally, it’s unfair to ask taxpayers to subsidize a major corporation that refuses to pay a livable wage or for basic health coverage. Economic growth in Southern Brooklyn needs to be driven by responsible small businesses, and a strong middle class.
The employees were also top of mind with Igor Oberman, a former administrative law judge running for the seat.
“I’m against it. Walmart has a history of abuse of its workers and if someone is trying to create sustainable jobs, Walmart is a corporation we shouldn’t be trying to be easy on,” said Oberman. “What we need are good sustainable jobs so they’re able to prosper. Not allowing them to work full time so they don’t have benefits, that’s not helping the poor and the middle class at all. That’s just making sure they’re never able to get out of that situation that they’re in.”
Oberman added that it’s the employment games retailers like Walmart play that allows them to keep costs low and undercut competitors, eventually putting mom-and-pops out of business.
“When Home Depot opened up, we had mom-and-pop hardware stores close up. That didn’t help the economy,” he noted.
Oberman said the best way to help the city’s economy is to do away with the fines and fees they get hit with. As a former administrative law judge, he was tasked with ruling on the city’s violations against small businesses.
“Some of the things that have to happen is the reversal of Bloomberg’s enforcement policies. As an administrative law judge I saw it first hand: businesses were getting violations that hadn’t been previously enforced. It just came down as a storm upon them,” he said. “We need a more sensible enforcement procedure so they’re able to stay in business. The city needs to be a friend to the business owner.”
That’s a sentiment every Democratic candidate shared. Scavo rattled off a seemingly endless list of agencies and violations, many obscure, that her business was hit with on an almost daily basis, as are many businesses to this day, she said.
“I couldn’t close my store as a small business owner to fight them. So I paid them. I paid them just to be left alone,” she said.
Scavo added that she would like to see the expansion of sales tax free items like clothing, a small business tax credit, and a common-sense review of the “ridiculous violations” the city doles out.
Deutsch said that the City Council should offer lower taxes on businesses, reign in the amount of fines and violations issued, and give tax deductions for discounts given to seniors and low income families.
“We need jobs, we need small businesses, we need affordable spending. We’re not talking about luxuries, we’re talking about necessities,” Deutsch said.