The community of Lacey, Washington is staring down a double-barrel shotgun. Here’s a report from Tristan Baurick about Lacey’s double trouble: “Wal-Mart is coming; and not just one, but two. The retail giant plans to build a strong presence in Lacey by 2003 with a pair of big-box super stores separated by less than five miles. Wal-Mart announced plans in late summer to open these two sites; one near the intersection of Yelm Highway and College Street, and the other north of Quinault Drive, near I-5. “Wal-Mart coming to the area is a terrible thing,” said Bob Bigelow, co-owner of Bigelow’s Office Supply in downtown Olympia. “It’s going to affect every business in town.” Bigelow, whose business has been anchored in downtown for nearly 50 years, says he will be in direct competition with Wal-Mart. “Wal-Mart kills local merchants,” he said. “That’s their nature. That’s the way they do business.” Bigelow says over a hundred independent office supply stores, like his, have closed shop nationwide due to competition from big-box retailers. “They bleed us dry, they empty stores, and people lose their businesses and their jobs,” he said. Kathy Lester, a salesperson at Griswold’s Office Supply near the downtown transit center, echoes Bigalow’s sentiments. “I think it stinks,” she said. A long-time resident of Shelton, Lester says she knows first hand the kind of impact Wal-mart can have on a small South Sound community. Lester says the Shelton Wal-Mart initially carried a wide selection of art supplies at prices cheaper than local shops. But, she says, once those smaller downtown stores folded due to the competition Wal-Mart greatly reduced its arts and crafts section and filled it with other items, forcing Lester to look to out-of-town stores for her supplies. “Wal-Mart hasn’t helped the area,” she said. “All it did was pull everything away from downtown.” Besides drawing consumers from the surrounding area, Lacey City Council member Jim Weber sees little benefit to Wal-Marts in his town. “There will be a huge impact and it’s going to really hurt,” he said. Already dominated by sprawl, Lacey is not in danger of losing a city center or ‘downtown character’. Instead, Weber says, the greater risk to Lacey is of Wal-Mart undercutting the already existing chain stores and eventually forcing them out. “[Wal-mart] puts a lot of large superstores out of business – that’s their plan,” Weber said. “When a big-box fails you have a lot of empty space and concrete. We’ll end up with empty stores that nobody will use,” he said, adding that few small start-up businesses are likely to rent out a vacant Rite Aid or Target. The Olympia area has had a history of opposing the construction of Wal-Marts. In 1995 residents of the Candlewood Mobile Home Park banded together to save 94 mobile homes from a Wal-Mart intent on building an outpost near busy Martin Way. More than a year of hard work and fundraising paid off for the residents, who came up with $3.4 million to purchase the 14-acre plot from their British Columbian landowner. Donna Regan, president of the Candlewood Homeowner’s Association, said in1996 that Wal-mart could have easily out-bid residents, but opted not to in light of strong public opposition. After their battle with Wal-Mart was won, Olympia City Councilwoman Margaret McPhee told Candlewood residents the city would fight to keep big-box stores like Wal-Mart from taking root in the future. “The only way to stop things like this is to limit the [size] allowed under zoning,” McPhee said during a victory celebration speech to the new homeowners.”
For more background on the Lacey story, go to www.olywa.net/wip, and click on the October, 2001 issue. According to Baurick, Lacey Councilman Weber (quoted in the story and the sole voice of opposition to WM in city gov) was voted out of office and replaced by an extreme pro-growth candidate.