Edenton, NC is a coastal community of just under 6,000 people. It describes itself as a “storybook place…a remarkable small southern town with an unsurpassed feeling of romance, charm and warmth.” What better place to locate a 110,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore? Within 30 miles of Edenton there are already 3 Wal-Marts. Recently the citizens of Edenton inadvertantly learned that Wal-Mart wants to locate on the edge of town on land that is zoned residential. Wal-Mart, of course, has denied that it wants to locate there, and has claimed that Edenton is not on their five year list. Mayor Roland Vaughn doesn’t believe that. The Mayor is concerned about the damage this store could do to the downtown he has been diligently trying to grow. “The savings you enjoy today,” the Mayor told residents, “will come back and take a bigger bite out of you later.” The financials support the Mayor’s position. Edenton is surrounded by existing Wal-Marts, and its population projections for the next twenty years show that less than 1,500 new consumers will be around by the year 2018. A Wal-Mart supercenter will suddenly double the retail sales capacity in Edenton and Chowan County, so most sales will have to come from existing businesses, because the supply of consumers isn’t ample enough to absorb this retail glut. Unlike many small towns, Edenton still has independent drug stores, a locally owned hardware store, and a real working downtown. Even though Wal-Mart says its not interested in Edenton, it faxed in “fact sheets” to the local Chamber of Commerce extolling its positive impact on the community. “Wal-Mart doesn’t go in with a goal of putting mom and pop stores out of business,” said one Wal-Mart spokesman. But if your goal is ‘one stop shopping’, it stands to reason that you’re not looking to help those other businesses either. Even the owner of the Edenton McDonald’s restaurant wrote a long letter to the editor opposing the store because of the impact it would have on this historic community of broad lawns and deep southern shade. Edenton’s goals are to promote tourism, expand manufacturing, and attract retirees looking for a beautiful southern town. Wal-Mart meets none of those criteria. “Edenton residents wish to enjoy prospeerity,” it says in their Land Use plan, “but not at the expense of the community’s historic charm and sensitive environment.” No one ever accused Wal-Mart of being long on historic charm. If Edenton is the classic American storybook town, Wal-Mart wants to be able to write the last chapter. No plans have been filed yet, but the 7 person Town Council will have to find that rezoning the land Wal-Mart wants is in the public interest. Given this community’s vision statement, land use plan, and zoning goals, it’s hard to see how a Wal-Mart nestled among the crepe myrtles is anything but a bad ending to the story.
A group called the Chowan Communities Coalition has formed to fight the store. To contact the CCC, call Preservation North Carolina at the Barker House: 919-482-7800. To express your opinions on this project, write a letter to Mayor Roland Vaughn, Box 300, Edenton, NC 27932.