Greenfield, MA. Yankee Magazine Says Sprawl-Busters Saved This Downtown
Yankee magazine in its Sept/Oct issue, offers a 3 page profile of Greenfield, Massachusetts, including its "classic New England downtown--the kind that's been disappearing since the 1950s."
The magazine notes: "And why is this you ask? Why is this Main Street intact, when so many others have been dismantled? Most probably because Wal-Mart's #1 enemy lives in Greenfield. In 1993, Wal-Mart came knocking, hoping to buy 65 acres on the edge of town, and, in an act of what he calls "accidental activism," resident Al Norman became involved in the movement to stop it from happening. Community spirit prevailed, and an activist was born....He formed "Sprawl-Busters," and he's been a pain in the big box industry ever since."
The fact is, Greenfield's downtown is not intact--not by a long shot. Big box chain stores, like BJs, Home Depot, and Tractor Supply, have helped to hollow out much of the downtown. But Wal-Mart stores located 20 miles to the north, east and south, have also done a number on our local stores. We lost two hardware stores after Home Depot came, and Ames, our major discount store, closed all throughout New England, due to the "Wal-Mart effect," which also shuttered Rich's, Caldors, Bradlees and all the other regional chain stores. Now we have stores from Arkansas, Minnesota, Georgia and North Carolina grabbing our retail spending.
So Yankee glamorized this town, and air-brushed the bad news. Yes, we have some terrific new restaurants, along with the monotonous Applebee's, Burger King and McDonalds chains, but aside from eateries, most of what we have downtown are niche stores, like toy stores trying to sell upscale of Wal-Mart, a game store, a food co-op and a bookstore that does not just sell Wal-Mart best sellers. We have a historic family-owned department store, Wilsons, which has kept its doors open, but is now moving away from retail to open a couple of floors of hotel space.
We also have major empty tenants, and a major mall on the west side of the highway that has been draining the downtown of sales since the 1960s. Overall, the town of Greenfield, from its Mayor on down, has pursued big chain stores, without any analysis of the impact on existing sales and merchants. For a town that boasts of trying to "green" itself, it is pursuing an unsustainable reliance on distant products and retailers. Any town trying to "green" itself by forcing homeowners to accept a 165,000 s.f. Wal-Marts on the edge of town, is clearly a community at war with itself.
For three years and three months, the town has been in litigation, named as a co-defendant, along with a wealthy Connecticut developer, over an incongruous Wal-Mart in an overlay zone designed to avoid big box structures.
Greenfield's downtown was not spared from Wal-Mart. It has taken repeated hits from big box stores over the past two decades. Wal-Mart can surround you, and squeeze your commerce dry---without ever entering your community. The impact could be called "death by saturation." Photos of the decay were not shown by Yankee, but they are visible just the same.
What you can do: Readers are urged to email Mel Allen, the editor at Yankee Magazine, at editor@YankeeMagazine.com with the following message:
Dear Editor Allen,
Thank you so much for the focus on the positive things transpiring in Greenfield, MA these days. There are a number of upbeat community forces at work in Greenfield---but a close look at the town shows that a retail war has been underway for a couple of decades, and chain stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target have still had a negative impact on local businesses---even though some of these chains have not even set foot in town.
By surrounding a town with Big Box stores, it is possible to draw foot traffic away from the classic downtown. Greenfield wounded its own downtown by allowing a mall to develop in the 1960s on the interstate highway, instead of reinforcing its central commercial district. Then the chains like Wal-Mart came along, and destroyed the discount store chains that created the mall originally, like Ames and Richs and Mammoth Mart.
Lack of regional planning, and poor understanding of retail economics has undermined a vibrant downtown in Greenfield. It is still a wonderful place to live or visit, but it has been hurt by incoherent land use strategy, mixed visions, and a decidedly uncivil discourse among residents.
Far from being a 'green' community, I would describe this town as a 'grey' community moving along an uncertain path into a cloudy future."