The village of Ellenville, New York describes itself as “cute” and “one of the most beautiful, up and coming communities in the area.” This little community in the Catskills has six very big Wal-Mart supercenters within 30 miles, in Monticello,Middletown, Kingston, Fishkill, Newburgh, and Milford PA. The census count in Ellenville in 2006 was 3,926 — a loss of 317 people since 1990. It’s doubtful that those 317 people left the village of Ellenville to move closer to a Wal-Mart — but for the people who remain, their “cute” village and surrounding town of Wawarsing is going to be turned on its head by a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter, located two miles north of Ellenville in the hamlet of Napanoch. According to the Times Herald-Record, Wal-Mart has signed a contract to buy an existing shopping center called the Napanoch Valley Mall. The potential sale of the 20-acre property was announced by the village Mayor, Jeff Kaplan — who also happens to be the lawyer for the owner of the mall. Wal-Mart has put up $250,000 in an escrow account to hold the $5.5 million property. “There is a signed contract, but there are contingencies that we are finalizing,” the Mayor/Lawyer told the newspaper. “We anticipate resolution shortly.” Some locals are reacting as if a retail Elvis had come to town. “Everybody knows who it is, but you don’t really know,” winked Wawarsing Supervisor Edward Jennings. It is the town of Wawarsing which will permit the project, not the village. “They haven’t even been before the Planning Board yet,” Jennings said. On July 21, lawyers, architects, and engineers from Wal-Mart met with selected town officials in Town Hall; in order to keep the press and public out, at Wal-Mart’s “request,” no more than two town councilmen were present at any one time, to circumvent open-meetings requirements. Preliminary plans for a 130,000 s.f. supercenter were unveiled. The Mayor/Lawyer, who clearly has known about the project for months, if not years, said, “This has been a lengthy process, but there is clearly more activity as of late than there was previously. We anticipate that it will be fast-tracked in the near future.” The Napanoch Mall lost its steam when its two main anchors, Ames and Grand Union, succumbed to competition from the Wal-Mart fleet of stores in the area. Several small business remain at the Mall, but if Wal-Mart builds there, it will be like the killer driving off in the victim’s car. The owner of one of the remaining merchants in the mall, the Toolbox, had a sign in his window that read: “Think local first.” The owner told the Times Herald-Record, “The people need everyday things for the working class. We don’t need tailored suits. We need work clothes, underwear,” he said. And then, as a sort of humorless joke, he added: “They should have everything that I don’t sell.” It’s a cute joke in a cute town, but the Toolbox will be out of business within a year of Wal-Mart’s opening, and no one will remember the punch line by then.
On August 18, 2001, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Ames department store chain of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, a company which called itself “the largest regional full-line discount retailer,” had announced that it would close 47 stores in 10 states by the end of October. The year before, in November, 2000, Ames announced it was closing 32 stores, including 31 of the stores it acquired from Hills Stores Co. in December 1998. The other shoe dropped in August of 2002, when Ames went all the way down — announcing in a press release dated August 14, 2002 that it would close all 327 remaining stores. “It is with great sadness,” the company told customers, “that we inform you that Ames is going out of business.” “This was a wrenching decision,” CEO Joe Ettore said, “but the right course to take.” Ettore blamed a “softness in sales.” New York state was the big loser when Ames folded, with 85 closed Ames — including the store in the Napanoch Valley Mall. Now, roughly six years later, Wal-Mart is ready to bulldoze the dead Ames to the ground, as well as the Grand Union-a victim of Wal-Mart supercenter grocery stores. Readers are urged to call Wawarsing Supervisor Edward Jennings
at (845) 647-6570 with the following message: “Supervisor Jennings, I know its going to be hard to objectively look at the impacts of a Wal-Mart supercenter on Ellenville — with Mayor Kaplan serving as the mall’s lawyer, but try to forget the fact that the Mayor has promised publicly that this project will be ‘fast-tracked.’ This project should not be fast-tracked. It should be side-tracked — because a village with less than 4,000 people (and falling), and a surrounding town of only 9,000 more — does not warrant a huge Wal-Mart supercenter. Along with cheap underwear you will see a marked rise in crime and traffic. In economic terms, Wal-Mart has already hit your grocery and department store sector. Now they’re just coming in to take over market share completely. In small communities where Wal-Mart controls the market, those low everyday prices don’t look so low anymore. The scale of this proposal is incompatible with the rest of the built environment in Napanoch and Ellenville. I urge the Supervisor to follow the rules of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, and make this project go through a full environmental and economic analysis. This store is the wrong size, in the wrong place. Any store this huge fits a regional market complex, where most local shoppers will still have to go for any competitive choices. Wal-Mart has already conquered the larger markets in your region; the Ellenville area was clearly the fourth or fifth priority level of store location. But there is no such thing as a ‘hamlet’ supercenter. In such a small community, with limited spending cash, any store of this size that requires and drains the lion’s share of local shopping dollars, has the potential to decimate remaining local businesses and their jobs, and put an unimagined burden on local infrastructure and services. Now, while you still can, at the very least, pass a zoning amendment that requires the developer of any large-scale project to pay for an independently-compiled economic and community impact analysis that can measure the potential negatives versus the hyped positives before any approval can be given. A cap on the size of retail stores also would prevent further sprawl from darkening your door.”