Wal-Mart: Battling the Borg

The Monticello Wal-Mart has begun seriously beefing up its kosher section. But Sullivan County's independent kosher shops aren't being caught napping by the 800-pound retail gorilla: They're confident they can serve their niche market better. The Times Herald-Record reports:

The Sullivan shops' weapon?

Not a price war.

But delicacies like homemade gefilte fish — instead of Walmart's frozen or bottled — fresh-cut beef flanken and fresh-baked kishka that are nowhere to be found in the Walmart kosher section with a Spanish sign above it.

"And people just die for my Jerusalem kugel," says Shmuel Wimer of Meal Mart in South Fallsburg, as he points to other specialties ranging from chulant (a chili-like blend of beef, beans, tomatoes and barley) to kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats with noodles). "And if I don't have my petcha (jellied beef feet), my customers -- oh."

The reporter quotes author Nelson Lichtenstein, whose book The Retail Revolution: How Walmart Created a Brave New World of Business hit bookstore shelves in June.

The kosher shop owners — from places like Brooklyn, Monsey and, in Wimer's case, Israel — may not know it, but they're doing just what small shop owners in California or Texas do when Walmart opens Asian or Mexican food sections, says Nelson Lichtenstein, author of "The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business."

"They find a super niche," he says.

Meanwhile, 78 miles northwest of Monticello, the battle against Sam Walton's empire has more of a desperate quality about it. At the 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter in Oneonta, two carpenters and two union reps recently staged a lonely protest of the retail giant's union-busting practices.

The four men held up a portable sign in the highway right-of-way near the state Route 23 entrance to Walmart in the town of Oneonta. The demonstration was to raise public awareness of the issue and wasn't directed at the local store, they said.

The sign prompted supportive honks by passing motorists and some indecipherable yelling, they said.