I live close to a thriving neighbourhood shopping area in the borough of Queens. Well, you would think it was thriving, given the number of people on the street. But take a second glance and you soon discover that half a dozen stores are holding 'going out of business' sales or have already closed down. Some have been put out of business by competition from the expansion of a major local shopping centre that includes two big department stores and a variety of other national chains. But this may just be the beginning. Suddenly, the big discount stores have New Yorkers in their sights. After surrounding the city in recent years, they are now poised to strike at its heart. And that has the city divided between those who welcome the convenience, choice, low prices and jobs that these giants provide, and those who see them as evil incarnate, destroying the fragile ecosystem of the neighbourhood, while bringing low wages, anti-union policies, ugliness and uniformity. The final straw for the latter came just before Christmas when Wal-Mart, which is yet to get a foothold in New York City, confirmed that it plans to set up shop a couple of kilometres from my home. There are also signs that it is looking to get established in Brooklyn and possibly even Manhattan next. This is the Wal-Mart that is a subject of sex discrimination lawsuits and of hatred by the labour unions which have failed to gain a foothold. It is also the Wal-Mart where 100 million Americans shop every week, that forces its suppliers to accept lower and lower prices, and that is the nation's largest private employer. Local politicians and union leaders declared that it would come to Queens over their dead bodies. One city council member introduced legislation aimed at thwarting the behemoth's ambitions, and a small business lobbyist said that he planned to turn the question into one of immigrants' rights. His argument is that many local shops which are threatened by the Wal-Mart steamroller are run by immigrants, although he conveniently forgot to note that many hundreds of thousands of workers in China owe their living to massive orders from Wal-Mart. In the past year, the invaders have won hands down. Wal-Mart's big discount competitor, Target, has wowed people in Brooklyn with a huge new store. Indeed, there is a degree of hypocrisy displayed by New Yorkers. We may whine about the death of the local coffee shop or bookstore in the face of these giants, but chances are we will soon be eagerly heading for them.