Pat Nelson signs her emails, “proud to live and do business in Woodland.” From where she lives in Woodland, Washington, there are no less than 5 Wal-Marts within 25 miles, including two supercenters in Vancouver. This week, she contacted Sprawl-Busters with the following story: “My husband and I own a store in the small town of Woodland, population 4,300. Our town is celebrating its centennial this year. On May 3, the Daily News (www.tdn.com) announced plans for a Wal-Mart supercenter to locate in Woodland, starting construction as early as August, 2006. The website www.lewisriver.com tells you about our lovely area. If Wal-Mart comes to Woodland, I predict many closures and adverse effects for the businesses that have loyally served and supported this town: two groceries, a pharmacy/variety store, a discount variety, two tire shops, an oil and lube shop, a fishing-supply store, a nursery, an office-supply store, numerous hair salons, a vision center. a fabric and craft store, etc. etc. I don’t want to see Woodland’s recently-renovated downtown and our recently-remodeled small shopping center lined with empty storefronts. Both our beautiful historical downtown, nestled on the shores of Horseshoe Lake and celebrating its centennial this year, and our other shopping area on the East side of Woodland, along the Lewis River, plus other local businesses, could become nothing but ugly, unproductive, empty storefronts, encouraging an increase in crime and de-valued property for owners.”
The town of Woodland has created a non-profit group called “Downtown Woodland Revitalization” under the Main Street U.S.A. program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The group is made up of business people, local property owners, public officials, and interested citizens. It is funded by member dues, the City of Woodland and Port of Woodland. The goal of DWR is to “market a unified, quality image of the business district as the center of activities, goods, and services to retailers, shoppers, investors and tourists.” Its specific objectives include: 1) Market a positive image for Downtown. 2) Encourage more local shopping. “Our primary focus is to achieve an attractive and vibrant downtown by working with business managers, property owners, the City of Woodland, the Chamber of Commerce and other entities.” It is impossible for Woodland to pursue downtown revitalization and a Wal-Mart supercenter on the edge of town at the same time. The two strategies for economic development are incompatible. Most of Wal-Mart’s sales comes from existing merchants, and their existence on the edge of town will do nothing to promote other businesses — unless those businesses differentiate themselves by moving into product lines that Wal-Mart does not carry, such as antiques and t shirts. Or, as one merchant boasted, “tropical fish and wallpaper.” That same merchant ended up selling storeage space, something Wal-Mart couldn’t care less about. Woodland’s Centennial theme is “embracing our past, anticipating our future.” If they allow a Wal-Mart supercenter to be part of their future, they won’t have much of their past left to embrace.