By All Barbarino and Jake Pearson
July 29, 2011
After more than 100 uninvited community members RSVP'd to an exclusive breakfast with Walmart yesterday, store officials made a last-minute location change to avoid a spectacle.
The Daily News reported this week the big-box store was courting select, mostly pro-Walmart East New York local leaders with a breakfast at the Lindenwood Diner - and angry opponents who didn't make the list bum-rushed the event.
"If they want to hear from the community, then why am I not in there?" asked Community Board 5 board member Joyce Scott-Brayboy.
"I was not invited. I went inside and they wouldn't let me in."
The invitation-only breakfast meeting was considered the latest sign the chain is eying a store at the planned Gateway II shopping center.
The 35 invitees met with five Walmart bigwigs from human resources, constituent relations, store operations and public affairs at a private office building on Atlantic Ave. and Eastern Parkway.
"We were able to ask tough questions in an open forum," said Community Board 5 Chairman Nathan Bradley, who attended the two-hour meeting, where Walmart reps were asked to consider raising the $8 hourly rate for some employees to $13 and hiring at least half of its staff from East New York.
"If [Walmart's] going to be in the East New York community, we don't want to be looking in from the outside," Bradley said.
Still, about 40 protesters led by City Councilman Charles Barron (D-East New York) railed against the store from the street.
Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo said that protesters came "to the surprise of no one," once word of the meeting was public - so they moved the meeting to avoid trouble.
"Out of respect to the proprietor [of the Lindenwood Diner], who has to serve a very busy lunch crowd, we moved," he said.
Lindenwood general manager Tom Urena said he still got to cater the event, selling $600 worth of wraps, sandwiches and salads.
"They called us up and said, 'We're going to move [the meeting]; we're going to spare you guys the hassle,'" he said.
Also yesterday, a new Quinnipiac University poll found 69% of city voters would shop at a Walmart if it were convenient - while 70% also strongly agreed the chain's low prices hurt small businesses.