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2010-01-28
Warrenton, OR. Anti-Wal-Mart Group Rises Up To Battle Superstore

In September of 2009, residents of the small communities of Warrenton and Astoria, Oregon got a big surprise. The Warrenton community of roughly 4,500 people found out that a huge Wal-Mart superstore had been proposed for a 17 acre piece of land on Highway 101. The 153,000 s.f. store would rank by far as the largest retailer in the city's history. The project will need to go through the Warrenton Planning Commission to get approval. But the project has stirred up controversy from the start, in part because of the small town historic character of the area. The city describes itself as being located in Clatsop County, "on the beautiful northwestern tip of Oregon... bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the mighty Columbia River on the north." Warrenton, and the neighboring city of Astoria (pop. 9,900), comprise an historic region at the western end of the Lewis & Clark Trail. Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. A suburban Wal-Mart big box does not fit into this North Coast community. Area residents are also concerned that this enormous store will devastate the existing retail businesses in the cities. According to The Daily Astorian newspaper, some local residents have warned officials that inviting Wal-Mart to town is like inviting the cannibals to dinner. "It doesn't just affect Warrenton," one long-time businesswoman told the newspaper. "It goes throughout the county and across the river. If you lower the hours somebody works and you lower the pay that they get and you require them to do your bidding at all times, you take away the spendable time somebody has to volunteer and contribute to the community." Two months ago, a group called the Clatsop Economic Development Resources put on a business seminar called "Weathering Wal-Mart." These seminars teach smaller businesses basically how to dodge a bullet by finding a retail niche to hide in. "The idea is to create an environment where businesses are not going head to head on price," one of the seminar sponsors said. "They're not going to make it that way. If they can find a way to deliver something unique, whether it's service or product, they can find a way to survive in a big box world." Like selling goldfish. But another resident thought the idea of the seminar was a charade. "Wal-Mart will within 18 months put out of business Astoria stores -- any stores that sell the same kind of merchandise. It will probably hurt Fred Meyer, and all of Warrenton's small stores. These two towns will become ghost towns." Some residents say the project will only benefit the Nygaard family that owns the property. The nearest Wal-Mart is about 35 miles to the east of Astoria just over the border in Longview, Washington. The city of Warrenton is already engaged in an Urban Renewal Plan to "encourage infill, rehabilitation and redevelopment," according to the city. But a huge Wal-Mart superstore would only create more empty buildings and loss of foot traffic downtown. "It would be a sad scene to see our little town die," one resident told The Astorian, "but you will have a lot of parking." This week, an anti-Wal-Mart group went public. Roughly 20 people came to the first meeting of the group Clatsop Residents Against Wal-Mart (CRAW). The group has been fund-raising since November, and will soon distribute nearly 2,500 copies of the film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices" CRAW members -- quoting Sprawl-Busters -- say the Wal-Mart superstore is "not a done deal," but it is a "dumb deal."

What you can do: A number of Warrenton/Astoria small businesses have come out publicly against Wal-Mart and in support of CRAW. One leader of the group, James Pottschmidt, told the Astorian "Traffic is going to be a nightmare, unless ODOT wants to pay for a new bridge." CRAW is opposing Wal-Mart's effort to get a highway access permit from the state. The Warrenton Planning Commission also has to approve the site design. Before anyone knew what the landowner was doing, he applied for permits to fill wetlands on his site. The application stirred up little attention, because residents had no idea that the land changes being proposed were for a future Wal-Mart. Readers are urged to email Warrenton Mayor Gilbert Gramson at citymanager@ci.warrenton.or.us with the following message: "Dear Mayor Gramson, Small cities can make big mistakes, and letting Wal-Mart build on Highway 101 will go down as one of the biggest misjudgements of your Administration. In the end, you will get neiher jobs nor increased revenues, because Wal-Mart will get most of its sales from existing cash registers. The scale of this store is inappropriate for the Warrenton/Astoria region. I can imagine the ghosts of Lewis & Clark warning you that this is the wrong path for your city. You can't buy small town quality of life at any Wal-Mart. But once they take it from you, they can't sell it back to you at any price."










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

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