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1998-12-19
Decorah, IA. One Wal is more than enough

How many times can Wal-Mart come into Decorah, IA and expect a welcome? A little more than 10 years ago, Wal-Mart opened a store in the Centrum Plaza at the edge of town, and even added to the building since then, bringing it up to 75,000 s.f. today. Wal-Mart already is the largest retail store in this small community in Northeast Iowa. Now the company wants to move their location about a mile to the east, just over the town line in Winneshiek County. Their store would be located along one of the region's most valuable natural assets, the Upper Iowa river. Wal-Mart plans to construct a 183,000 s.f. superstore, and most likely shut down their existing store, which they rent from a group called Decorah Associates, located in Bentonville, Arkansas. So Wal-Mart is renting from itself, and would have no problem getting out of its lease. Given the fact that the population of Winneshiek county is actually smaller today than it was in 1900, and projections for the next 20 years show no population growth -- Wal-Mart's superstore is going to have to feed off existing merchants to survive, especially several downtown grocery stores. But an aggressive resident's group, the Citizens of Responsible Development, has begun to stir this Norwegian Lutheran community into action. The CRD recently held an open forum at the High School which attracted 500 residents. CRD is opposed to the land being annexed into the town of Decorah, and has hired an attorney to fight annexation or rezoning of the property. A drainageway creek runs right through the middle of the property Wal-Mart wants, and the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan says the county should not encourage strip development, and must show a "required need" to rezone the land to commercial. Total retail sales in Decorah in 1992 were around $94 million. A 183,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter could bring in $55 million -- most of which could be transferred sales from existing stores. Decorah still has a downtown with local hardware stores, grocery stores, and independent pharmacists. A study of nine counties in Iowa by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1996 showed that 84% of the sales in a Wal-Mart were derived from other businesses. CRD is willing to live with the one Wal-Mart that came into town in the mid 1980s as the result of a lawsuit, but area residents say that one Wal-Mart is more than enough.

What you can do: For the names of local contact people in the CRD, contact Sprawl-Busters by email at: info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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