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Walmart can’t ignore NFTA request to talk about a bus stop at new Cheektowaga store

Walmart officials should move quickly to set up a Metro Bus stop at the soon-to-open Cheektowaga store, which will help ensure that history does not repeat itself.

A disappointing report in The News Wednesday detailed the absence of action so far by the company. Transit officials here have implored the retail giant to place a stop close to the new store.

Walmart has equivocated, saying simply that it remains open to allowing direct access to the store on Walden Avenue, set to open in April. The message needs to get through to Walmart headquarters and spark a response to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

It took outreach from this newspaper twice in the past two weeks seeking clarity on the issue before the retail giant responded. The company, wrote News staff reporter Robert J. McCarthy, now seems ready for negotiations on what remains a touchy subject with the NFTA.

The transit agency is all too familiar with what could go wrong when a segment of the community is shut out.

Back in 1995, Cynthia Wiggins, a 17-year-old mother heading to her job in the Walden Galleria food court, was crushed by a dump truck as she was trying to cross seven lanes of traffic on Walden Avenue. Because the Galleria refused to let NFTA buses stop on its property, shoppers and employees from the city had to get off on busy Walden Avenue.

The outcry from the African-American community was immediate. Charges of racism were leveled against the Galleria. Famed lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., now deceased, took the case, which by then had gained national attention. The lawsuit was settled during trial in 1999. Wiggins’ son, Taquilo Castellanos, received $2.55 million from the defendants, including the owners of the mall. They never admitted liability.

The case created a stir in the community that has never been forgotten here, and should be part of the due diligence for any company with plans, whether purposeful or not, to repeat the same mistake.

The NFTA’s spokesman said the agency had reached out “numerous times” to open dialogue about getting permission for Metro to access the retailer’s property. “We have never received a return phone call,” he said.

The transit agency has strengthened service past the store, anticipating demand from city residents, but still hasn’t gained permission to get close to the front door.

Sometimes the obvious has to be said: Ignoring the safety needs of a community is not the way to promote a new store.