CHICAGO Wal-Mart Stores Inc is preparing for a potential showdown as it tries to enter the city that never sleeps.
Many New Yorkers have long opposed giant chains they say encroach on independent retailers and boutiques. But in recent years other large retailers have been able to win over shoppers with low prices and large assortments.
Now, just two days ahead of a New York city council hearing about the company, Wal-Mart said most New Yorkers polled in a recent survey are actually in favor of a Wal-Mart store opening in their hometown.
Three New York City Council committees are holding a joint hearing on January 12 about the effect Wal-Mart has on small business and community when it enters a new area.
Arkansas-based Wal-Mart declined to participate in the event. In a letter to the chairmen responsible for Wednesday's meeting, Wal-Mart said it wants the committees to first examine the impact of existing large retailers on small businesses in New York City "before embarking on a hypothetical exercise."
One person who does plan to testify at the hearing is Patrick Purcell, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the largest grocery workers' union in New York state.
He called Wednesday's meeting "an intervention" to discuss details about the company's business practices. Groups opposed to Wal-Mart say it puts pressure on small businesses and communities.
Wal-Mart has not announced any plans for a New York City store. The company has long been keen on expanding into the city and has been able to move into other cities where it faced opposition, including its 2006 entry into Chicago.
Wal-Mart is looking at the possibility of opening small, medium or large stores across all five boroughs, a spokesman said.
It hopes to win over New Yorkers with a new website, which shows that, in a poll of 1,000 New Yorkers, 71 percent support a Walmart store opening in the city.
(Wal-Mart's new website is www.walmartnyc.com/)
EASING INTO NEW YORK
Target Corp, BJ's Wholesale Club Inc and Costco Wholesale Corp are among the big chains that have opened stores in New York City.
The UFCW's Purcell said those companies seemed to be more willing to ease their entry into the city by meeting community leaders than Walmart has been so far.
BJ's, for example, agreed to pay for some memberships to its warehouse stores and accept food stamps at its location.
"At least they came to the table and negotiated some things," he said.
New York City residents spent more than $165 million at Wal-Mart's U.S. discount stores in 2010, according to the company.
Wal-Mart already has 111 stores in New York state. It employs more than 38,500 people in the state, with an average wage for full-time hourly workers of $12.21 per hour.
(Editing by Andre Grenon)