Maine Villages Fight Wal-Mart Invasion

Date: 27 Oct 2005 | posted in: Retail | 1 Facebooktwitterredditmail

It was standing room only at the public library in the coastal town of Damariscotta, Maine, this week when more than 80 people gathered to kick off a campaign to keep out Wal-Mart by adopting a law that would limit stores to no more than 35,000 square feet.

The grassroots group, calling itself Our Town Damariscotta, hopes to gather the 200 signatures needed by Nov. 1 to formally bring the size cap measure before voters at a Town Meeting.

Although not yet officially confirmed, it appears that Wal-Mart has been looking at a potential site on the edge of town to build a 109,000 square foot superstore

Damariscotta is a village of just 2,000 people. It has a lively downtown with numerous locally owned businesses that would compete with a superstore, including a pharmacy, grocery store, and department store.

Wal-Mart is increasingly looking to build giant stores in small New England villages. Earlier this year, the company announced its intention to open a supercenter in Derby, Vermont, a community of 4,500 in an isolated region near the Canadian border.

Wal-Mart may also be looking at a site in Thomaston, Maine, a town of 3,800 people about half an hour east of Damariscotta. There, a developer has proposed a 350,000 square foot retail project (likely to be two big-box stores, plus some smaller fast-food or retail outlets), but has not yet revealed the tenants.

Thomaston residents are fighting the plan. They have submitted enough petition signatures to bring a 70,000 square foot size cap before voters at a special Town Meeting.

Many people find it hard to believe that Wal-Mart would look to open stores the size of two or three football fields in small villages. But Wal-Mart wants the whole retail pie and this is part of their market saturation strategy. They purposely build far more retail space than towns can support in order to flood the local area with excess capacity and thereby capsize smaller competitors.


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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.