By  on August 24, 2005

NEW YORK — Determined to get a toehold in one of the city's five boroughs, Wal-Mart is considering three sites in Brooklyn, as well as two in Staten Island, people familiar with the situation said.

The world's largest retailer is said to be focusing on Brooklyn, which it considers an underserved market of more than three million people.

Wal-Mart has been the target of political and organized labor opponents in New York who say it shortchanges employees on wages and benefits and hurts small businesses, among other things. They forced the Bentonville-Ark.-based giant to retreat this year from considering a site in the Rego Park section of Queens after its plans for a Supercenter were revealed. To counter the opposition, the company is taking out radio spots and advertising in community newspapers.

"Brooklyn welcomes businesses that want to be good neighbors," said Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn's borough president. "Wal-Mart would have to make serious changes in its business practices to gain my support. Ideally, Wal-Mart will consider unionized employment options, which would ensure the kind of living-wage, secure jobs with equal pay for women, benefits and health insurance that Brooklynites deserve."

The search in Brooklyn is said to center on Fulton Street, a major retail thoroughfare. Wal-Mart is negotiating with Joseph Sitt, founder and chief executive officer of Thor Equities, the owner of The Gallery at Fulton Street, which has 150,000 square feet of available space, people with knowledge of the situation said.

That would be sufficient to house a Supercenter. In fact, the company operates a successful 99,000-square-foot Supercenter in Tampa, Fla. Wal-Mart is said to be ready to tailor its assortment for the Brooklyn community.

Wal-Mart also has shown interest in the Coney Island and Red Hook sections of Brooklyn. It may need those as backups in case competition heats up on Fulton Street. National chains including J.C. Penney, Sears and Kohl's are also circling the area.

"I've heard that there are major retailers looking," said Mike Weiss, executive director of the Fulton Street Mall Association. "I've heard about Kohl's. There's an upbeat feeling about downtown Brooklyn. There's residential development so people will be living closer to downtown."A Sears spokesman said the company doesn't discuss stores that haven't been announced. Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney and Kohl's executives did not return phone calls.

In the past 18 months Zales, Finish Line, Forever 21, Radio Shack, Subway Underground and Lids have opened on Fulton Street.

"It's largely because the area is very heavily trafficked," Weiss said. "We did a pedestrian survey and found there are [between] 80,000 and 100,000 shoppers a day."

A Brooklyn property owner who declined to be identified said, "I think there's going to be a shootout between Wal-Mart, Sears, Kohl's and Penney's. There's only going to be space for two large retailers. A lot of times Wal-Mart is known for moving very slowly and losing opportunities. In urban markets, you have to move fast. J.C. Penney and Kohl's are super-aggressively shopping."

Wal-Mart is also looking at two locations on Staten Island, the sources said. One, a Lucent Technologies factory site in Richmond Valley, is on the South Shore; the other, Mariner's Harbor near the Goethels Bridge, is on the North Shore.

"Staten Island is maxed out as far as retail is concerned," said Dennis Dell'Angelo, an architect and president of the Pleasant Plains, Prince's Bay, Richmond Valley Civic Association. "Wal-Mart has a lot of baggage in terms of the way it treats its employees."

Richard Lipsky, coordinator of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, the main anti-Wal-Mart coalition in New York, said the South Shore site is further along. There are site plans and discussions have been held with city planners. Lipsky commissioned a traffic study of the Richmond Valley location and is organizing small business groups.

"We're cautiously optimistic about our organizing efforts," Lipsky said.

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