Monday, September 21, 2009

One town's battle against Wal-Mart

A story in yesterday's Boston Globe features St. Albans, a small town in Vermont, population 5,086, that has spent sixteen years fighting retail giant Wal-Mart. The battle, believed to be the "nation’s longest ongoing Wal-Mart fight," commenced in 1993 when Wal-Mart sought to build a retail store on a cornfield across the street from the town's drive-in movie theater. Residents, environmentalists, and preservation groups have been fighting the development plan ever since.
The St. Albans Wal-Mart fight has raged in courtrooms and in town offices, produced a mountain of motions and rulings. At a recent hearing, pleadings from both sides totaled 1,000 pages. And there is no definitive end in sight. A judge is expected to issue a decision this fall that could send the case to the state Supreme Court, for the second time.
The residents of St. Albans are divided on the issue of bringing Wal-Mart to their town, with the debate causing significant tension and resentment in the community. Project opponents argue that building a 160,000 square foot superstore will have devastating long-term effects on the community, including shuttering local businesses and eroding the very "essence" of St. Albans, particularly the quaint downtown area. Supporters of the superstore maintain that St. Albans needs the cheap goods and employment opportunities that Wal-Mart has to offer.
Unemployment in St. Albans City, the town’s urban core, was 10.1 percent last month, and 2005 figures put median household income at $44,750, well below the Vermont average of $52,682.
Arguments of the project proponents also center around the issue of underwear. A waitress at Nana's restaurant explains, “You can’t even buy a pair of underwear here. Well, you can, but it’ll cost you $30.’’ Lee J. Kahrs, staff writer for the St. Albans Messenger introduced a 2004 piece on the Wal-Mart conflict with this visual:
Imagine you are enjoying a sunny afternoon in Taylor Park. All of a sudden, you remember you need new underwear. No problem! You zip across Main Street to the new Wal-Mart in downtown St. Albans.
For now, the residents remain divided as the 16-year battle drags on. If Wal-Mart wins, Vermont will have its fifth--and largest--Wal-Mart store and the people of St. Albans, it seems, will finally be able to purchase some underwear.

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