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2000-04-15
Boston, MA. Kmart Losing its Edge in Boston

Just as activists in urban St.Louis are fighting Kmart (see previous story), the giant retailer has run into similar grassroots resistance in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. For more than a year and a half, community groups and merchants in Jamaica Plain have been trying to say that a Big K is not OK with them. Although broad neighbhorhood opposition has mounted to Kmart's plans, the offer is still being pushed by another group that is chartered to help express the community's goals -- the Urban Edge Community Development Corporation. Mainly a housing developer, the non-profit Urban Edge wants to locate a Kmart on a 3.5 acre parcel of land owned by the state's transit authority, the MBTA. The site is located in the Jackson Square area, where residents are more interested in using the vacant land for a youth center or ice rink, than for a superstore. The Boston Globe has editorialized against the project at least twice, calling the location the "wrong place for a Kmart, where "overdevelopment and traffic pose bigger dangers than disinvestment". To pitch its project, Urban Edge conducted an attitude survey of "456 pedestrians" in the Jackson Square area. Although the "survey" suggests that a discount store would draw more people to the area, respondents were not told it was a Kmart or the specific impacts such a store could have on the rest of the community. Claudio Martinez of the Hyde Park Square Task Force told the Jamaica Plain Gazette that the survey was "a very expensive propaganda tool". Martinez says "I have yet to find one person who says they want a superstore here. Everyone who lives here is against this, yet all this money is being spent to prove this is a good thing." The Urban Edge survey also concluded that the store "could potentially draw sales away from certain stores, particularly those sellkng the few most directly competitive items." Research around the nation has shown that 60% or more of the sales that go into these big boxes come from existing merchants. Area resident Leonel Ramirez told the Gazette the Kmart would add traffic and lose the atmosphere of the community. "This is a neighbhood," Ramirex explained, "and I want it to stay like a neighborhood." The Jackson Square neigbhorhood, which has one of the largest youth populations in Boston, is looking for development that will bring added value to the community, not just more Martha Stewart products. A sports dome or a youth center make more sense to community groups than a megastore. The Hyde Square Taks Force, the Hyde/Jackson Business Association, and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council have all adopted positions against Kmart. This has left the Urban Edge CDC holding onto a thin edge of viability in Boston. "We've made it clear to Kmart," Urban Edge told the Bay State Banner, "that until the community planning process is done, we don't know what's possible." But the real planning process, and the real "survey" has already been taken: the community groups in Jamaica Plain want no part of superstores in their neighborhoods.

What you can do: From San Francisco to Harlem, community groups have taken up the battle against superstore sprawl. This is not just a rural and small town phenomenon, as these stories about Boston and St. Louis will attest. Urban Edge tried to suggest that superstores are better in urban areas, citing the case of Rutland, Vermont, a small town in central where Wal-Mart located in an empty Kmart building. Rutland's former Mayor praised the store, but Wal-Mart said the store was an "underperformer" for them, and in more than 99% of their locations, the company has spurned downtown locations. For more information about the Jamaica Plain fight, contact Claudio Martinex or Ken Tangvik at the Hyde Square Task Force: 617-524-8303, or hstf@hydesquare.org










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

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