By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — An anti-Walmart group warned of the dangers of allowing the megastore to move into New York City at a local community board meeting Wednesday, calling the retailer a "virus" that pushes out small businesses.
Walmart Free NYC, a coalition of community organizations, labor unions and businesses opposed to the big-box chain, delivered a scathing presentation to Community Board 3's Economic Development Committee that sought to pre-empt any future attempts by the retailer to consider space on the Lower East Side.
"These people are predatory retailers," said Walmart Free NYC's Bertha Lewis, outlining the company's ongoing push to crack the metro market.
"They need New York City, and they need to get into urban areas."
One possible site for the chain would be the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, a series of vacant lots on Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge that recently earned community support for redevelopment after more than 40 years of inactivity.
Community Board 3, in approving the redevelopment plan, stipulated that "mid-box" stores — or spaces between 10,000 and 30,000 square feet — should be encouraged to open on the ground and second floors of major thoroughfares like Delancey and Essex streets. The board added that no retailers, except a supermarket, should exceed 30,000 square feet.
Lewis explained that SPURA presents a possible "entry point" for Walmart in the city, and asked the committee to consider signing on to a restrictive covenant that would preclude the chain from landing on the Lower East Side.
A Walmart spokesman said the company expect to open 30 to 40 "small stores" across the country this year, ranging in size from 15,000 to 40,000 square feet.
Joel Feingold, from the local advocacy group Good Old Lower East Side, noted there is "tremendous fear" Walmart could cast an eye toward SPURA, causing the "evisceration" of the existing small business community in the area.
"Get ahead of the game — don't get fooled," Lewis cautioned the committee, which did not take a position on the matter at Wednesday's meeting.
While Walmart currently has no stated plans to open in New York, it is exploring options to bring an outpost of the chain somewhere in the city.
"We continue to evaluate opportunities across all five boroughs with a concentration on underserved communities in need of jobs and affordable food," said Steven Restivo, Walmart's director of community affairs, adding that the company will not "apologize for making healthy, nutritious food more affordable" in response to the coalition's claims.
Walmart has cited the need for more supermarket options selling fresh produce, especially in the city's low-income communities, noting that New York can support more than 100 new neighborhood grocery stores.
"New Yorkers shouldn't have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford," Restivo explained, noting that stores in some areas have become "magnets" for other retail growth.
Lewis claimed that the chain's ultimate goal is to open 100 stores throughout the city as a way to grab a 20-percent market share of New York. She added that the retailer's introduction of hair and nail salons into its stores would only further damage local businesses if Walmart comes to Gotham.
"They will do anything," Lewis said, "and they're looking to do it in any way."