The nearest Wal-Mart to Tupper Lake is a superstore approximately 44 miles north in Malone, New York. It’s not that Wal-Mart hasn’t tried to push its way into the Adirondacks — but communities like Lake Placid and Saranac Lake fought them off. Now the Mayor of one village that calls itself “The Crossroads of the Adirondacks,” is aggressively courting Wal-Mart — despite the community’s desire to remain a small, quiet, pedestrian-oriented village. The Mayor of Tupper Lake, Mickey Desmarais, is working overtime to bring Wal-Mart to his village of roughly 4,087 people. The population of Tupper Lake has been described as “slowly shrinking.” The village has lost 5% of its people since 1990, and this trend is expected to continue over the next five years. The community describes itself as a “bustling Adirondack tourist village… .steeped in the tradition of the hunting, fishing, lumbering and logging trades.” Tupper Lake attracts tourists, photographers and outdoor enthusiasts — and has never tried to brand itself as a discount shopping mecca. The village is located in the town of Altamont, and is more known for its annual Woodsmen’s Days competition, than for its big box bargains. Tupper Lake bills itself as a “four-seasons Adirondack getaway,” with 76,168 acres of “rolling upland… covered with a magnificent forest of mixed softwood, sprinkled liberally with palatial lakes, winding rivers and sparkling brooks.” It would be a challenge to find a more incongruous home for a supercenter. But the Mayor is going to give it a try. The village says it is seeking “quality and appropriate businesses… . that would be compatible with the character and development of the community.” Towards that end, Tupper Lake has “approved tax incentives and potential sites” to attract business. In November of 2006, an Albany-based big box developer, the Nigro Companies, came to Tupper Lake looking for one of those “potential sites.” Nigro has been involved in controversial Target and Home Depot projects in towns like North and East Greenbush, and Bethlehem, New York — where the developer was fined by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation for water pollution. One area legislator described the potential project to the media: “I wouldn’t say a shopping center,” he said. “What I’ve been told is a commercial enterprise, a business. I have not heard the name Wal-Mart, or anything like that, but this is a huge piece of land, so you’ve got to think big.” The site is the location of a factory that closed in March of 2006. The same legislator said a Wal-Mart would make economic sense, because the property was 15 acres, there would be a local demand for a supercenter, and potentially a large regional population base from as far away as Lake Placid to the east, and Piercefield and Colton on the west. Mayor Mickey Desmarais was so enthusiastic about the superstore idea, he sent off letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott in April of 2008, saying his village would support a Wal-Mart in Tupper Lake. “Tupper Lake has the ability to draw shoppers from a minimum of a 40-mile radius if we had a Wal-Mart store,” the Mayor told the retailer. “In that radius, the population at least doubles during the summer months. We promise, as mayor and village board of trustees, to do anything that we can to ensure an efficient, timely and successful achievement of your goal.” With such a promise, village residents might wonder how their elected officials could impartially assess any environmental or traffic concerns that such a project could produce. The Mayor was already sold on the idea — sight unseen. According to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Wal-Mart hasn’t written back yet.
The Mayor of Tupper Lake might want to go back and review the village’s Vision Statement from its Economic Development Strategy plan, dated December, 2007. That Vision statement says that by 2020, “Tupper Lake will be a nationally recognized center for education in environmental and natural sciences and a vibrant four-season Adirondack destination attracting families, businesses and visitors looking for a unique place balancing nature and technology, history and progress, work and play.” The plan says that Tupper Lake will be recognized as “a green community and center for environmental education — where nature gets nurtured.” Mayor Desmarais seems to be out of step with the small town, pedestrian friendly, green community that his constituents say they want to protect. In a survey conducted for the Vision Plan, Tupper Lake residents indicated that Tupper Lake was special because “it is much quieter and less crowded than other Adirondack Destinations.” If Tupper Lake is billing itself as “the perfect destination for the visitor who wishes to get away from it all,” then it can’t clutter its roadways with suburban sprawl. Tourists seeking “the quiet peacefulness of a less hurried vacation,” will not want to be fighting traffic on Route 3. Residents complained that part of Tupper Lake’s weakness is “blighted commercial and residential properties and general community appearance.” The village has applied for an Adirondack Smart Growth grant, and wants to create a “Main Street Tupper Lake” program. Readers are urged to email a message to Mayor Mickey Desmarais at [email protected], or fax him a note at 518-359-7802. His work phone is 518-359-3341. Send the Mayor this message: “Mayor Desmarais, I was shocked to hear that your idea of village growth is to write to Wal-Mart. The idea of a superstore in Tupper Lake is so out of synch with your Smart Growth application, your proposed “Main Street” program, and your Vision Statement, that it takes my breath away. Your tourist selling point as a place where “nature is nurtured” just doesn’t fit with a Wal-Mart box. You can’t promote a center of environmental education in a community that fosters concrete and asphalt sprawl. That doesn’t sound like a green community to me. I would urge you to write another letter to Wal-Mart, and tell them, “Nevermind.” There’s a reason why residents in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid fought for years to keep Wal-Mart out of the Adirondacks. Once you lose small town quality of life to Wal-Mart, they can’t sell it back to you at any price.”