Damariscotta, Maine is described by the region’s Chamber of Commerce as “your doorway to classic Maine.” Local residents along Route 1 in mid-coast Maine want to make sure that towns like Damariscotta do not become the doorway to sprawl. In a refreshing example of local control and independence, these hardy Mainers are banding together regionally to protect the character of their communities, the significant tourism dollars that flow to this part of the Atlantic coast, and their very unique quality of life. Caps on the size of retail buildings are being proposed in Damariscotta and Newscastle, while residents in Edgecomb and Nobleboro are drafting similar ordinances. The group Our Town, in Damariscotta, is putting together a voter campaign to enact a size cap before Wal-Mart lays one ounce of concrete. After all, the area already has three Wal-Marts within 22 miles. If a supercenter is built in the area, residents expect the Wal-Mart discount store in Rockland, Maine to be closed. With an election coming up on March 21st, Our Town has no time to waste in preparing for the vote. Here’s a report from residents on the frontlines: “This is the home stretch! We have about 9 weeks till the Damariscotta size cap vote, and proposals going forward in Newcastle, Nobleboro, and Edgecomb for similar size caps in those towns. Each town’s effort strengthens the others, as we present a united front against a corporate takeover of our backyard. In the coming weeks we will be asking much of volunteers, from stuffing envelopes and making Get Out the Vote calls, to attending Public Hearings and educational events. Like any campaign, we expect this to be a sprint to the finish.”
These are very small communities. Damariscotta wasn’t Wal-Mart’s first choice in the region, or even its second, third or fourth choice. It’s a
“fill-in” store, part of the Wal-Mart saturation strategy, or marking of its territory to keep out other large retailers. In Damariscotta, perhaps 1,500 voters are on the town rolls. But Wal-Mart and its developers are willing to spend an enormous amount of corporate money to buy their way into Maine. Even though the area is already saturated with Wal-Mart stores, Our Town expects to be up against a very well-financed campaign by Wal-Mart. The retailer has already begun using a polling firm to contact voters. After that will come the full color mailings, the display ads in the newspapers, the radio and TV spots. Damariscotta has hired a company out of Portland, Maine to conduct an economic impact study, but you don’t need to be a retail economist to know that counties with only 40,000 or 50,000 people will be dominated by a retailer that plans to build a 185,000 s.f. store, nearly the size of four football fields. For this Wal-Mart to be reasonably successful, it must bring in $92.5 million in sales annually — larger than the entire retail pie in some of these little economies. But this battle is not about stores at all. It’s about the very future of “classic Maine,” the picture postcard towns of coastal Maine, and whether the experience of these towns will remain poetic, or mundane and cheapened. At Wal-Mart, they know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. The vote in Damariscotta is really about local control, about whether Damariscotta will plan its own future, or be planned upon by out-of-state corporations. This is truly a watershed election for this small town, and for its neighbors. You can’t buy mid-coast Maine quality of life at any Wal-Mart. They don’t carry it on any shelf. But once they steal it from you — you can’t buy it back — at any price. For local contacts in Damariscotta, contact [email protected] Search by “Danmariscotta” for an earlier story on this special town.