Add another small town to the list of communities that have tripped up Goliath. Wal-Mart has suddenly pulled the plug in tiny Charlevoix, Michigan. Local citizens were activated and rolling out their campaign, when Wal-Mart departed in the middle of the night, leaving a message behind for officials in this town of less than 5,000 people. According to the Record-Eagle newspaper, company officials told Charlevoix Township planning commissioners in late May that they’d withdrawn their request to build a supercenter off U.S. 31, Stover and Marion Center roads. The company gave no reasons, offering only a three sentence letter by way of goodbye. But a short and sweet farewell was music to the ears of Bob Hoffman, a member of the grassroots group This Is Our Town, that opposed the Wal-Mart store. Hoffman told the media his members were “elated” at the news of Wal-Mart’s withdrawal. “The store was too big, it didn’t fit in our community and would be detrimental to what Charlevoix is,” he said. The usually very talkative Wal-Mart PR machine maintained a wall of silence about its withdrawal. Less than two weeks earlier, Wal-Mart had promised to submit completed site plans to the town. There were no estimates of how much money Wal-Mart wasted in Charlevoix, but their effort began almost one year ago. The withdrawal came right as Wal-Mart was working on its economic impact and floodplain studies. The Charlevoix supercenter was proposed to be 157,000 s.f., and would have opened in the spring of 2005. but, as the Record-Eagle story noted,”community opposition organized quickly. Concerns cropped up about Wal-Mart’s potential to negatively impact local businesses, wetlands, nearby Stover Creek and Charlevoix’s small-town charm.” The other reality is that the Mayhor of the adjoining city of Charlevoix had vowed not to provide sewer to the site, forcing Wal-Mart to develop its own septic system, which may have made the project an engineering boondoggle. In the wake of Wal-Mart’s withdrawal, town officials say they are considering amending their zoning to limit the square-footage of future developments in the township, something that This Is Our Town thinks should happen throughout the county. “There is a sense of identity here, where when you walk down the streets, you know your neighbors, you shop in your neighbors’ stores and they employ your neighbors,” Hoffman told the newspaper. “It has a certain attractiveness to it that you lose with a big-box store.”
I am pleased to have been part of the Charlevoix victory over Wal-Mart. This small community had something like 10 Wal-Marts within an easy drive of their community. Charlevoix is one of those special places in America that don’t need a Wal-Mart supercenter to feel complete. The message from local residents was spelled out right in their name: This Is Our Town. Once again, small town America has slam-dunked the largest retailer in the world. For an earlier story of my visit to Charlevoix, search by the town’s name in this Newsflash database.