Municipal Art Society Asks: Why Do We Hate WalMart and Love Trader Joe’s?

Last week, the Municipal Art Society presented a panel discussion on a topic of interest to many Heights residents: the preservation of neighborhood businesses. Below is an edited video of the proceedings, in which the captioned question is asked:

Solutions for Preserving Neighborhood Businesses from MAS on Vimeo.

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  • my2cents

    That’s an easy one. because Trader Joe’s is for rich people and Wal Mart is for poor people. (i know there’s a lot more to it, but it really does boil down to this)

  • Publius

    Perhaps because Wal*Mart abuses its workers, suppliers, and is an envioronmental disaster.

    I encourge anyone who thinks that Wal*Mart is “good” to spend five minutes to learn the facts about its horrendous business practices.

    Trader Joes pays its associates a living wage, works fairly with suppliers, and provides unique value to the market in that 80% of what they sell is their own brand. TJs also encourages re-use and recycling. And TJ’s is inexpensive.

    This is why many people “like” TJs and do not like Wal*Mart.

    BTW, TJs has some of the least expensive groceries around. Much cheaper than the surrounding competition, but of excellent quality. Those who say that TJs is for “rich” people should look at the register tape after a shopping trip to TJs. They are a welcome addition to the nabe, in terms of their business practices, quality and pricing.

  • Billy Reno

    I like Wal-Mart and I’m not even a Republican.

  • my2cents

    Publius, I totally agree with you on all you say. But when i go there I don’t look at the cash register tape, i look at the clientele. They aren’t exactly a place where people can go with foodstamps to save money buying bulk for a hungry family. If you look where they locate their stores, they are most always in relatively affluent areas. I’d call it bargains for the birkenstock set. This is not meant to be negative…just an observation of reality.

  • AEB

    Agree, Publius.

    At a time when the culture-war flames are being vigorously fanned by a certain segment of the political establishment, it behooves us all to examine class assumptions, and stick to the facts as best we can.

    Which are, in this case, available via your link.

  • Heights Neighbor

    Say what you will, but Wal-Mart happens to be at the forefront of environmental initiatives right now.

  • Publius


    Care to back up your keyboard rhetoric with some actual legitimate referances?

    Or are you just speaking out of your posterior.

    (Flame war engaged).

  • BKBS

    While not a big fan of Wal-Mart, I find it hard to argue against a company that permits lower-income people to afford the sort of items that the middle/upper class takes for granted. We should have flat screen TVs because we make a lot of money, but let’s keep them out of the hands of the poor?

    If you’re against Wal-Mart’s practices, how do you propose to offer lower-income folks the same prices that Wal-Mart does now?

  • AEB

    Smiley, I’ve only had ten cups of coffee this AM. Would you kindly explain your statement:

    “…TJ, god love ‘em, serves the entitled yuppies who do everything they can to make sure poor people have to pay more for groceries – just to salve their socially conscious egos.”

    So: Yuppies ensure that the poor pay more to salve their –I’m paraphrasing, here–self-compromised sense of social responsibility….


  • anchor

    Walmart really isn’t that bad…Been in plenty of them from VA to TX. Everything is affordable, etc, as has been mentioned above. Even their stores which carry groceries are usually well-stocked and at good prices. Stop compaining about them, buy some of their shares, and vote.

  • brooklynite

    people also don’t like walmart b/c they are afraid of what it will do to “mom & pop” stores. they are able to low ball suppliers b/c they have such a strong backing.

    i like walmart, target, kmart, etc but i also think that they do ruin mom & pop stores. they just can’t compete. they are your 1 stop shopping places.

    FYI my2cents, you might not be able to buy bulk at trader joe’s but they do accept foodstamps so you would be able to get more for your buck in terms of organic food and such. some places that accept foodstamps don’t always offer reasonable pricing.

  • my2cents

    Brooklynite, thanks for informing me, I didn’t know that TJ’s accepted food stamps. That is good to hear. I am not a fan of Walmart, but I have to say that one needs to be delusional to think that TJ’s is anything but BAD for mom and pop stores nearby, not to mention local chains like Key Foods. Sure competition is healthy, which is why I am not against TJ’s, but you can’t deny it is going to hurt all the other neighborhood grocery stores. Especially small grocers on court street who were formerly the source of organic foods for the neighborhood. Which brings us back to the main question: Aren’t TJs and WalMart morally equivalent in terms of the health of the neighborhood stores? I say they are. And the only reason people might disagree with me is because they personally like TJ’s products and want to shop there because it is a store for them rather than “those people” who shop at WalMart. It is all about perception of the brand, not about commercial reality.

  • AEB

    my2, is TJ’s and local mom-and-pops really in competition?

    If I need some milk, eggs, cat food and a quart (gallon?) of fudge-ripple, I’m going to head for my local M. and P. (or supermarket), not to TJ’s, a specialty operation at heart and a trek from where I live, in any case.

    (I’m putting aside for the moment the uber-issue of chains devouring smaller COMPETITION.)

  • my2cents

    If I want some good extra virgin olive oil, fresh mozarella, or some organic fruits and veggies, and i lived in cobble hill, I might have gone to a local Italian food store. But now I might go to TJ’s for their house brand. This is the sort of thing that makes TJ’s a threat to local boutique businesses in a way that WalMart isn’t.
    Let me give you all a parable to this situation: I went to school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When Starbucks opened, there were actual vehement protests against it. Why? People viewed Starbucks as an evil corporation that would kill local coffee shops (most actually chains themselves). Well, what do you think happened a few years later when Ben and Jerry’s opened a shop *right* next door to the local ice cream shop? Same vocal anti-corprate protests? Nope! Nothing. No protests. Why? because those “activist” people viewed Ben and Jerry’s as a “benevolent” company that couldn’t be guilty of any wrong doing, even as they were engaging in an overtly hostile move towards a beloved local business. This is the reason why I think many “anti-corporate” types are just as brainwashed as the people they criticize for patronizing the “wrong” businesses. If you are against corporate expansionism and hegemony, you have to recognize it in all its forms.

  • joe

    I shopped at TJ even before they came in the nabe but I had to do it when I visted my relatives in NJ. I like their products and its good quality for the price. I still shop at Sahadi’s, key food and the atlantic ave grocery store for the products they specialize in. The reason I shop at TJ’s is for their unique TJ products. The mom and pops and big chains like Walmart do not have TJ’s products so its a moot point for me and not a like for like comparison.

  • Brooklynite

    I think that trader joe’s does not compete with with mom and pop stores as much as places like walmart does. TJ has their own brand of things and they specialize in prepared foods which in my opinion you don’t see much of in places like key food etc. I still have to go to key food for things as well. TJ isn’t super store like walmart that sells EVERYTHING from TVs to tylenol to toys to jewelry. All of the little ‘grocery stores” in the neighborhood are mostly for convenience, not your everyday shopping, unless you want to pay $4 for a half gallon of milk.

    Yea trader joe’s is a corppration but so is key food, met food, etc (which tons of people are not happy with their service there). In my opinion trader joe’s is a nice addition b/c it is providing us with options that we didn’t have before. Plus it has a lot of fair trade food which people are interested in buying. I’ll still go to sahadi’s for my hummus, esposito for my meat, etc.

    I think that TJ doesn’t upset people b/c it is a smaller market. When people think of walmart they think of it as taking over the world. Walmart was able to get Tide to make a “hand washing” detergent b/c the chinese were not buying the regular detergent as it is more popular in china to hand wash yoru clothes. Talk about having some pull.

    my2cents… I also went to UofM (small world) and was there for when Caribou Coffee closed on state st and the starbucks began popping up all over the place. It was pretty sad. Still don’t understand why people want to pay that much more for their coffee. Maybe it was a “name brand” thing. However I was happy when Ben & jerry’s came to campus. Not because I’m a fan, but because I hated stucchi’s ice cream and washtenaw dairy (amazing) was far from campus.

  • my2cents

    Haha. What a small world, Brooklynite! Yeah I know it was sad that Caribou closed, but Caribou was and is a chain, too. They are all over the midwest. I was really outraged when B&J came in, and to this day i get pleasure whenever I visit by seeing people wait in line outside Stucchi’s when B&J is relatively empty. ;-) On a side note, I have on my “red hot lover’s” t-shirt today. Man I miss that place.

  • stefan

    The first poster hit the nail on the head. TJ’s is for rich people and WaMa is for not so rich people. The MAS is so completely full of shit, only the most shit-filled could possibly think they do anything remotely useful.

  • Claude Scales

    Well, Stefan, I guess I’m shit-filled. I think MAS has done some great things for the City, including saving Grand Central Terminal and many lesser-known buildings and public art works (see here). Perhaps the caption on my post is a bit flip: it wasn’t MAS that asked the WalMart vs. Trader Joe’s question, it was someone at the panel discussion.

    In any event, I can’t quite get how TJ’s is “for” the rich (or at least exclusively for them) if they have low prices and, as another commenter pointed out, take food stamps.

  • stefan

    why does MAS get all this credit? They do nothing. They are truly full of shit. The Landmarks Preservation Commission saved Grand Central, actually the US Supreme Court saved Grand Central. The MAS filled a train full of society snobs, was that all that useful? Oh sure, the City lawyers who argued the case were just window-dressing for Jackie O. Please!

  • Claude Scales

    You have something against Jackie?

  • stefan

    I love Jackie, but the MAS has been trotting out her image as their official mascot for what? forty years? It is a tired act. Can you really understand any position that the MAS has stood for in the past twenty years? Have your read their “opinion” on Atlantiic Yards? It is Gobbley-goop. Almost hillarious if you read it out loud. Worthy of a double-talk comedian. You need a decoder ring to understand it.
    it is Skull and Bones meets Laurel and hardy. Plus, unlike other organizations, they do not give one cent in charitable assistance. they are 100% self-serving. Have they ever given five dollars to a struggling art group or home owner? I do not think so. All they have is snob-appeal and that is a pretty thin resume in my humble opinion. Who needs them?

  • Claude Scales

    I dunno, but this (MAS’s brochure on Atlantic Yards) seems pretty clear to me. I was also present when MAS President Kent Barwick spoke in favor of an Assembly bill to establish more effective public oversight of, and participation in, the Atlantic Yards planning process.

    MAS’s mission, which I support wholeheartedly, is to preserve the City’s physical architectural and public arts heritage, while encouraging intelligent planning of future development. I also believe we should assist struggling arts groups and home owners, but those are the missions of other groups that I support as well.

  • KeyFood Sucks

    to my2cents,,,when did putting Key Food out of biz become a BAD thing? They are the most expensive place to shop for miles (and they sell mostly garbage and are rude). While i agree that its important to support mom n pop, when did just being in biz for a long time make a store a great store. sometimes, there’s no where else to shop, sometimes it’s charging too much, sometimes its underpaying workers. and many times they are run by jerks (yes, some nyers love their morning retail abuse along with their crappy coffee). Are there stores who will go out because TDs moved in? Of course, but it’s because they were too expensive to begin with and did not offer enough of an enjoyable shopping experience to combat that. so if that guy has to close his bodega, yes i feel bad for his family, but how many families will live better because they can shop at TDs?…where they can pay LESS and, actually enjoy varied dining options, instead of the generic mac n cheese from key food?
    btw, if u step inside TDs during the week, u will see that its a total mix of people from every culture and every socio-economic background. :)
    walmart is a completely diff animal, AND the toughest argument to pick a side on. whether walmart is your only option for employment or your only option for food and merchandise, it is giving u a chance at a better life to those who dont have a choice…which is great. then, it has terrible labor practices and puts the others out of biz. its really a 50-50 issue.

  • my2cents

    I never said I was against Trader Joes above. I just said that it will affect key food and other nearby food shops – like it or not. My point all along is that no one, no matter what their public posturing says, seems truly against national chains putting local chains or mom and pops out of business as long as they personally like the national chain in question and identify with its brand image and clientele. Your post proves my point. You don’t identify with walmart’s clientele or business practices, but you do like those of Trader Joes. Therefore it is irrelevant to you whether TJ’s affects anyone else’s business because you like Trader Joes and feel positive about their brand image. The point is that the issue is not “Let’s stop national chain stores from ruining local businesses and local chains,” but rather “Let’s keep out national chains we view as undersirable to our lifestyle while letting others in.” We’re all guilty of this (I LOVE 5 guys and don’t care about that local burger place across the street). It’s time we look at our *real* motivations for why we support some chains and not others rather than our *fictional* notion of protecting the little guy and the local chain. That is what i have been trying to point out this whole thread.
    I think I need to stop now. Anyone else feel addicted to this blog sometimes? :-)

  • Red Hot Lovers Lover

    I also went to U of M and no one I know would go to Ben & Jerry’s over Stucchi’s.

    By the way, what is “TD’s”? It’s Trader Joes, not Trader Djoes. Am I missing something?

  • rocco

    Honestly, there’s nothing of quality foodwise at walmart. I think ‘poor’ need to stop filling up their cart with big boxes.

  • stefan

    This is Brookln heights. Snob central. “Where even the rich live badly”. What a weird little neighborhood, no?