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Queens wants Walmart, says survey of boro

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Walmart is comin’ to town if the company gets its way.

Just in time for Christmas, the retail giant released a survey of 1,000 New York City residents that shows that 70 percent of Queens residents support the construction of a Walmart in the city.

The company hopes that the results of the poll, which it hired someone to undertake, will help bolster its renewed effort to build a store within the five boroughs.

The City Council plans to hold a hearing on the issue Jan. 12, barring many Queens pols from commenting on the proposal.

But that fact has not stopped city Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who represents the Rego Park location Walmart eyed as a possible store location more than five years ago, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and area business leaders from downplaying the poll and decrying the company’s renewed efforts to find a place to open its first New York City location.

The leaders say they are concerned that the retail giant will put small stores out of business and that the nation’s largest company has a history of taking advantage of its workers.

“I think that Walmart is an omnivorous competitor that squashes small business wherever it goes and small business is the lifeblood of New York City,” Weiner said. “I think that people like the shopping strips of Queens, which would become ghost towns if Walmart moved to the neighborho­od.”

Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo countered that claim by pointing to a Walmart store that he said spurred small business growth when it moved into the Chicago area.

“In the city of Chicago, where we have one store which opened in 2006, in the four years since the store opened 22 new businesses have opened within a half mile of the store,” he said.

Dromm seconded Weiner’s concerns, derided Walmart’s labor practices and called into question the legitimacy of the study, which also said New Yorkers spent more than $165 million at stores outside the city during the past 12 months, with the majority of that spending coming from Queens and Manhattan residents.

“The study was conducted by Walmart themselves and I don’t think it’s a valid study, to be honest with you. I think what people want are low prices and bargains and they can do that without Walmart. We have plenty of small businesses that offer special bargains as well,” Dromm said. “Walmart has so many abuses. They underpay their employees, they pay poverty wages, they offer very little in the way of health benefits and they have traditionally mistreated women.”

Doug Schoen, a pollster hired by Walmart to conduct the survey, said it conclusively finds that the retailer is well-liked in the city.

“Walmart enjoys deep and widespread support throughout the five boroughs,” he said in a statement.

Restivo countered the labor complaints as well.

“Wages in a potential New York City store would take into account cost of living, and would be competitive compared to what others are offering today,” he said.

But Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, which represents an area Walmart has considered moving to before, said no amount of explanations and excuses will make her support the retailer moving into her neighborhood.

“We have close to 200 small businesses along the Forest Hills business district and it’s getting harder and harder for them to keep up with the high rents,” she said. “I haven’t heard anyone recently come up to me and say we need a Walmart.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 10:28 am, October 12, 2011
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