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Upstate Walmart denied waiver over safety

Crowds wait behind closed doors shortly before the

Crowds wait behind closed doors shortly before the opening of Wal-Mart in Valley Stream. When the doors opened the crowd rushed into the store, a number of people were knocked down including a Wal-Mart worker who subsequently died. Credit: Nakea Augustine

Small-town officials in upstate New York this week denied permission for a Walmart store to open Thanksgiving night and keep parking lot lights on round-the-clock before its Black Friday sale. They said the company seemed less interested in safety than feeding “its own frenzy” for retail sales.

Neighbors of the store also testified at a public hearing in the town of Victor, population 10,000, against granting Walmart's request for an 8-hour jump start on its normal 7 p.m. Friday opening.

They said they doubted Walmart's contention that the permits were needed to keep shoppers and workers safe.

Walmart told the town it needed the changes as part of a nationwide shift in pre-Black Friday security following the 2007 death of Jdimytai Damour, 34, a seasonal maintenance worker at a Valley Stream Wal-Mart, who was trampled by crowds at a post-Thanksgiving Day sale.

But in Victor, the residents and town officials wondered whether the store was using Damour's death as a pretext to stay open longer and sell more.

"Have you ever considered closing on Friday to protect the public?" the board chairman, Dawn Grosso, asked a Walmart representative.

"No!," replied Terry Flynn, Walmart's representative at the meeting. The meeting minutes included the exclamation point.

"Like it or not, the reality is 1) we have employees and 2) we are in the retail business and we have an obligation to be open that day. This is a capitalist country and we do have to run a business." Flynn said, according to the minutes.

The Walmart representative repeatedly denied, during the meeting, that the company was putting profits before safety in the permit requests.

The decision denying Walmart's request was made Tuesday; the public hearing was held Oct. 19, on the request to open at 11 p.m. Thanskgiving night, eight hours before the normal 7 a.m. Friday start.

"…To be quite honest I think Black Friday has been created by retail," Victor Planning Board member Al Gallina said. Local governments that allow extended hours and other concessions in the name of safety, could be doing the opposite, he said.

"So we've created its own frenzy by opening stores earlier and having bigger sales and opening them up earlier to the point where quite honestly it borders on ridiculous."

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