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2007-09-28
Wellsville, NY. Wal-Mart Proposal Upsets “Lovely Small Town.”

Wellsville, New York promotes itself as "a lovely small town in the heart of the Allegheny Hills." This village says its "nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, with the Genesee River flowing through it." Located in New York's Southern Tier, Wellsville has about 5,200 residents, plus another 3,000 residents who live outside the village. Wellsville considers itself as the traditional shopping center for southern Allegany County and northern Potter County in Pennsylvania. "Wellsville has much natural beauty," their website says, "Forested hillsides are interspersed with picturesque farms... sweeping vistas of the surrounding countryside." Today, this picturesque vision of a small rural community is unspoiled by Wal-Mart sprawl. The village has a Kmart, but the closest Wal-Mart is 21 miles away in Hornell, New York, and the nearest supercenter is 36 miles away in Bradford, Pennsylvania. But Wellsville's tranquility has been upset by a proposal from Wal-Mart to come to the village. All it took was the huge shadow of a Wal-Mart to stimulate a citizen's group to form. This week, the Wellsville Citizens for Responsible Development organized a public forum on the Wal-Mart plan. Around 150 people showed up for the forum, according to the Wellsville Daily Reporter. One of the founders of WCRD told the group, "We are pro-economic development in Wellsville that is sustainable, responsible, environmentally sound and which will be compatible with a strong downtown. We need companies that pay a living wage with benefits and ones the will keep our young people here." But one member of the audience responded, "It's a free country, if you don't like Wal-Mart don't work there, don't shop there, but don't make the decision for me and hundreds of other people." Another homeowner said, "In my opinion Wal-Mart is not known to be a good partner with the community. It will swallow up many of the stores that have been good patrons, friends and neighbors who have invested a lot in this community who support Little League, youth football, girls sports and when tragedy falls, they come through." 17-year-old Heidi Mangels simply pleaded, "Don't let Wellsville die."



What you can do: One resident in Wellsville told the local newspaper, "I don't think Wellsville is in great shape. Preserving downtown Wellsville does sound silly at times, something needs to change, but bringing a store that overshadows the entire town shouldn't be the default answer. Great, bring in jobs...but you speak as though it will drive Tops, Giant, and Kmart right out of business. If that is what you want, and that is what happens, then we are out jobs as a result of Wal-Mart also. It's just weird to me that the only way to better everyone's financial situation is to bring in another place to spend money...Nobody wants to budget better, or quit smoking, or stop drinking to save thousands a year...We need a billion dollar industry plopped down in our town to save maybe $250 a year. Has anyone invited some folks from Hornell over to speak on how Wal-Mart has impacted their community/county? I'm open to the idea of change, but I think the long term ramifications of Wal-Mart outweigh the short term benefits " At this public event, one person got up and told people, "there is no zoning in the town to prevent a business opening up." But there is always a zoning issue to explore, and often one that can be fatal to a big project. Developers, and often public officials, want the public to believe that it's a "done deal." The Wal-Mart proposal is currently in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) stage, which is expected to last several months. The WCRD will have to retain a land use attorney, and look for zoning issues to raise during the SEQRA hearings. The group will also have to raise money, and mount a public relations effort, including letters to the editor, to keep the issue in front of residents. Clearly this is a regional store. Wellsville itself does not have the population base to support a Wal-Mart store of any size. Other stores, like the Kmart, will surely close. Unless the village sees some major influx in new consumers, Wal-Mart is a zero sum game. Villages have very little capacity to analyze large scale projects. They have neither the planning staff nor the expertise to respond to the very technical traffic and environmental reports that the developer will stack on their desks. For this reason, WCRD will have to consider hiring their own traffic engineer, or environmental specialist. Small communities all across the nation have stopped big box stores, but they need to fight on a level playing field. For more information on the basic small town rules for engaging big box stores, go to www.walmartwatch.com, click on "try our battle plan," and then open "Battlemart 101." Readers are urged to call Mayor Brad Thompson and the village board at: (585) 593-1121. Tell them, "Wellsville will be well without a Wal-Mart. Small villages don't need large chain stores. Protect your scenic vistas, and promote your locally-owned businesses -- but don't count on corporations who sell you more items from China to float your economy."










 
 
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