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Unstoppable

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Sound familiar?

For the city, the McDonald’s precedent is at once reassuring and alarming. On the one hand, there now some 250 sets of Golden Arches scattered around the five boroughs—and as far as one can tell, their proliferation has caused no appreciable degradation to New York’s quality of life or the quality of its cuisine. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that having a McDonald’s every few blocks represents some Edenic ideal. Or that the consumption of roughly a zillion Quarter Pounders has done the city (apart from its cardiologists) any favors.

For Wal-Mart, by contrast, the McDonald’s story imparts essential lessons. In order to end the contretemps at 66th and Lexington, the company was forced to negotiate a truce that entailed the abandonment of the project.

But that wasn’t all it did. “After that experience,” Love writes, “McDonald’s developed a policy to assess a community’s political environment carefully before building a new unit and respond to any resistance early—before positions on either side became public and intractable.”

For Wal-Mart to break through in New York, following a similar path will be necessary, but it may not be sufficient. We live today in a different world, more amped-up and polarized, and Wal-Mart is a much larger and more important company than McDonald’s has ever been. All of which means that Wal-Mart is a riper target.

Lee Scott knows that Wal-Mart must become more politically adept, more sensitive to local fears. But his belief in Wal-Mart’s manifest destiny is sturdy—and not a little unnerving. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be at least twice as big in the U.S. as we are today,” he told me. “And whether you in New York get a store this year or next year or five years from now, if we do the things we should do, then ultimately we will prevail.”

How can Scott be so sure?

“Well,” he says with a little laugh, “we’re going to be around a long time.”


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