2010-12-24 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Rockaway Eats Its Young
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Having lived on the peninsula for more than 60 of my 71 years, I have noticed a strange phenomenon.

Rockaway eats its young.

The people of Rockaway long for something and, when they get it, quickly work to destroy its worth or to demand something bigger and better.

The new YMCA on Beach 73 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard is a perfect example.

The people of Rockaway have been waiting decades for someplace in which to recreate.

There has been no public place on the peninsula (outside of our schools, most of which are locked tight each afternoon) for kids to play basketball, for people to swim and meet and work out.

When it was announced that a YMCA was indeed coming to Arverne By The Sea, the kid-eaters quickly went to work.

“Nobody from the west end will go to Beach 73 Street,” they said. “We want the gym farther west on the peninsula so that everybody can use it.”

“The swimming pool should be Olympic-sized,” some said. “The planned pool is too small and we don’t want it.”

“It doesn’t have an enclosed gym. I have never seen an outdoor gym on a Y,” others said.” Without the enclosed gym, we don’t want it.”

A group went to the community board and convinced the board to pause the development program.

Rockaway nearly lost the Y entirely.

It happened more recently with the new Stop & Shop Supermarket.

Rockaway has been waiting decades for some large-scale commercial development. The supermarket and the other shops at the Arverne By The Sea Transit Plaza is a good beginning.

One again, however, we heard murmurs.

“It’s too dangerous to go to Beach 73 Street,” some west enders said. “We don’t need it.”

“It smells in there,” said another. “I won’t go back there as long as it smells.”

“There are robberies there all the time,” said another. “How can we go there to shop when it’s so dangerous.”

Last year, The Wave called for putting a big box store in the Arverne East development area between Beach 35 Street and Beach 56 Street, perhaps a Target or even a Walmart store.

We got an immediate reaction from the kid-eaters.

“Having a big box store on the peninsula will put all the small mom and pop stores out of business,” one said.

“It will clog Rockaway’s roads and you won’t be able to get off the peninsula during the summer months,” said another.

I asked the first man where he could find a good camera to buy in Rockaway, where he could buy a suit, a pair of pants, a television set, a refrigerator, some CD’s, decent furniture, books.”

He had no answer.

Who would the big box store put out of business, then?

“Perhaps the supermarkets and small bodegas,” he opined.

The big box store controversy, of course, is not limited to Rockaway.

There are many local politicians and union leaders who see big box stores, particularly Walmart, as an enemy to be repulsed from our shores even unto death.

Walmart has been trying to purchase some city land right next to the Gateway Mall in Brooklyn, along the Belt Parkway, half-way between Cross Bay Boulevard and Flatbush Avenue.

For many Rockaway residents, the argument is not whether or not to use the present Gateway Mall, but whether to hit the Belt Parkway from Cross Bay or Flatbush.

The new mall was to be anchored by a supermarket, but then Walmart pushed its way into the conversation and, like the 800-pound gorilla, it could not be ignored.

It is clear, at least to me, that Walmart would be good for us, being within 20 minutes of the west end.

Many City Council members, posturing for the masses, don’t agree.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn remains critical of Walmart, motivated by the strong dislike of the firm by most of the unions (who contribute to her war chest) with the exception of the building trades unions, who drool over the thought of building a Walmart and the other stores it will draw to the new mall.

Officials at Walmart can’t understand how city officials can be opposed to their firm while approving of a Target store, BJ’s and Bed Bath and Beyond less than a mile away.

I have heard all the opposition stories about Walmart -- how it locked its employees into a store overnight to prevent theft and how one employee died when medical help could not get to him after he had a heart attack.

I have heard about how badly the company treates women and minorities and about the federal lawsuit filed against them.

I have heard about the company’s attempt to keep its employees from becoming unionized.

I have hear how they raised prices on some of the more popular toys for this Christmas season in an attempt to squeeze out even more profits.

To those issues, I say “so what.” Walmart is a business and it is attempting to maximize profits and reduce costs, just like all business do.

You cannot fault the company for than any more than you can fault a lion for killing zerbras.

Walmart hired a noted Democratic pollster to see how York City business owners to see how they feel about the commercial giant coming into the city.

You might think the poll biased, because it was commissioned by Walmart, and perhaps it is designed to put the company “spin” on the controversy, but it shows that small business owners in the area and in the city in general favor a Walmart by a count of 62 percent to 27 percent.

That’s better than the approval rating of most of the politicians who oppose the store.

“There’s a clear sense that having Walmart in New York City will create jobs, stimulate the economy, provide consumers with lower prices and be extremely beneficial to the city,” the pollster said.

The baby-eaters respond by saying that Walmart will put all of the small retailers in Brooklyn out of business.

Sound familiar?

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