Wal-Mart opponents in Topsham, Maine believe that good things come to those who wait. Apparently the long wait for Wal-Mart to get a green light in Topsham caused the company to pull out of a proposed deal in this community. The local newspaper is reporting that the company has decided that Topsham is no longer at the top of its list, and the retailer will instead be content with its expanded store in nearby Brunswick, Maine. Wal-Mart had indicated that it thought both Brunswick and Topsham needed a Wal-Mart supercenter, but as time passed, so did Wal-Mart’s enthusiasm. “Right now we’re not actively pursuing the site in Topsham,” said a spokesperson for the company. Wal-Mart received a construction permit approved by the city for a 220,000 s.f. supercenter, but their plans got hung up in court. Richard and Sherry Thacker, owners of the Arby’s restaurant on Topsham Fair Mall Road, filed an appeal against Konover development company. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court handed down a decision against the Thackers last March. The Thackers argued that the Topsham Planning Board had erred in approving the proposed development because it would prevent vehicles from making a left turn from the Arby’s access drive onto Topsham Fair Mall Road during peak hours, causing the level of service at the intersection to fail. Konover had approval by the city to build both a Home Depot and Wal-Mart of Topsham Fair Mall Road. The Home Depot store is now under construction, but the Wal-Mart plan has now evaporated. “While it’s a pity Wal-Mart won’t be here,” said the owner of the site, “the Wal-Mart location becomes valuable for other stores like Home Depot. And that type of store will do more than Wal-Mart to further establish the area as a regional marketplace.” Konover has sold the mall to one of its former Vice Presidents, but still has an option on the still empty Wal-Mart parcel.
There is no such thing as a “done deal” when it comes to big box development. In the Topsham case, the city had already given the go-ahead, but a lawsuit — even though it was ultimately unsuccessful — was credited her with derailing the project. There is no way to know the internal timetable of a project, but the Topsham Principle is: Delay is always a good thing. You live to fight another day. And in this case, another day brought no Wal-Mart. Can we quote this mall owner who says Home Depot will do more for his community as a draw than Wal-Mart? What a sad state of affairs. Is this what people find attractive about Maine?