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Walmart hits a wall in New York

Saturday September 22, 2012 11:09:14 AM, Arun Kumar, IANS

New York: Mighty Walmart, the world's largest retailer, has been thwarted once again in its efforts to open a big-box store in the Big Apple in the face of opposition from local unions much like protestors in India.

However, unlike India where opposition to letting in big retailers like Walmart stems from a professed fear that they may kill small "Mom and Pop" stores, it is largely the business model that the company follows that has kept it away from the big cities.

The world's third largest corporation, according to Fortune Global 500, considered the biggest private employer in the world with over two million employees working at 8,500 stores in 15 countries, under 55 different names earned a whopping $446.950 billion in 2012.

In the US alone it has more than 4,000 stores, but only a handful in the big cities. There is none so far in New York or within the city limits of Washington DC, but there are dozens of sprawling Walmarts within 40 km in the surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

But of late Walmart has been looking for small locations, around 20,000 square feet, just a fraction of its typical 150,000 to 195,000 square feet stores in the suburbs, in urban areas including New York City, San Francisco and Washington.

The first of the six Walmart stores in the national capital are set to open by year-end much to the delight of Washingtonians who don't mind driving out 30-40 km to "Save Money. Live better" as the 50-year old chain known for its rock bottom prices advertises.

However, in New York, Walmart last week withdrew from a project, known as Gateway II, being developed by Related Companies in Brooklyn after local unions, some members of the City Council and community groups raised an alarm at the idea of the retailer's gaining a foothold in the city, according to the New York Times.

"Walmart's withdrawal from Gateway II shows that when New Yorkers join arms, even the world's richest retailer is no match for them," Stephanie Yazgi, a spokesperson for Walmart Free NYC, was quoted as saying.

But Walmart, in a statement, made it clear that it was still interested in opening a store in the city: "Two things remain constant: most New Yorkers want us here, and we remain interested in providing more convenient access to Walmart for local residents."

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported from Hong Kong that Walmart expects to open its first retail stores in India in the next two years after New Delhi's decision to allow foreign multi-brand retailers to expand their footprint.

"We will commit to retail in India," Scott Price, chief executive of Walmart Asia, told the Journal in an interview. "But this idea that the gates have been opened and there's going to be a flood (of investment) is overwrought."

Price said he did not believe infrastructure in India "is an obstacle to modern retail".

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at



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