Residents of Fairhope, Alabama figure there’s one thing that a chain store like Wal-Mart understands: other chains. So the group of Wal-Mart opponents, known as A Fair Hope of Success, who are trying to block a supercenter in their community, are going to form a chain of their own this weekend. Here’s their story: “Months of petitions, zoning drives, community meetings and passionate pleas to elected officials culminate Saturday March 4th with an event that may make history in Fairhope, Alabama. A proposed Super
Wal-Mart less than a mile from the heart of a community deemed “one of the 3 most charming small towns in the South” by readers of Southern Living has a grassroots citizens action group ready to make a statement they hope will be heard hundreds of miles away in Bentonville, Arkansas. “Sam Walton was quoted years ago,” offers Karin Wilson with A Fairhope Of Success, “saying if for some community for whatever reason doesn’t want us in there we aren’t interested in going in and creating a fuss. In this case it’s more than a fuss – this project is a threat to everything we cherish about the town of Fairhope.” Wilson and her group will host a “Chain against Chains” Saturday March 4th beginning at 10am – pledging a protest demonstration lining the sidewalks of Fairhope with hundreds of others determined to stop the world’s biggest company from setting up shop. “We will line the sidewalks of Fairhope Avenue to prove although their chain is big, ours is stronger. We hope to set a Guinness Record for the longest demonstration chain against Wal-Mart.” A Fair Hope of Success began its struggle last fall – when long-swirling rumors of a planned Super Wal-Mart first officially materialized even after a Wal-Mart spokesman said it had “no immediate plan” to establish a store in Fairhope. “We felt betrayed by our city leaders,” said Dean Mosher with Fair Hope of Success. “We only learned later that Wal-Mart had actually approached our mayor two years ago to discuss their plans. The proposed site is less than a mile from downtown – and a slap in the face to the Fairhope Comprehensive Master Plan this same mayor and council approved in 2001.” The Master Plan recommended a village-style approach to growth with no more than 20,000 square feet of retail in any one location. Wal-Mart’s proposed
Super Center at Fairhope Avenue and Alabama Highway 181 will add 200,000 square feet of retail to a site largely made up of subdivisions and farmer’s markets. Since the site is not technically within the city’s limits – city council members who joined in the fears and concerns of the protest group said “their hands were tied” on stopping the powerful retailer. A building permit has been issued- but the city council is investigating its legitimacy with lingering questions on Wal-Mart’s impact on city sewage, erosion and traffic. A group of nearby subdivisions is also analyzing its legal options. Citizens’ concerns center on traffic, drainage, and law enforcement issues at the site, as well as on the impact of the proposed Super Center on the character and charm of Fairhope. The traffic, which even Wal-Mart admits will be considerable, will remain on the two lane road for the foreseeable future, as the Alabama Department of Transportation says it will take up to seven years to make AL 181 a four-lane highway. Drainage issues are particularly sensitive for the residents of the adjacent River Mill subdivision, some of whom have suggested the name will have to be changed to “A river runs through it” should the proposed Super Center be built. And although the city of Fairhope does not plan to add any more police officers to support Wal-Mart, the Wal-Mart in the neighboring town of Daphne requires three or four police calls per day. Since the news broke in August, more than 2,000 have signed an anti- Wal Mart petition at a downtown bookstore. Fair Hope of Success supporters also hit the streets, gathering hundreds of signatures in support of a referendum to start the zoning process made complicated by Alabama’s zoning laws. “We’ve tried to work within the system to zone the area around the site — to protect ourselves against not only Wal Mart but other big box stores that will follow,” said Mosher.” “But we can’t count on the system to protect us. We’re gathering Saturday to send a message to Wal-Mart that we won’t have a retailer from Arkansas determining our future.” “We wanted to do something fun and positive that gives the people of our town a chance to make a difference to the community they love,” said Kristy Kiernan, one of the event’s organizers. “There are a million Wal-Marts,” says Kiernan, “but we have only one Fairhope.”
Fairhope is known as a utopic community grounded in the same values of its high-minded founders that started the Fairhope Single Tax Colony in the 1890’s. Founder Paul Gaston and his supporters envisioned a “model
community” that saw danger in the monopoly of wealth and power. Today, the craftsman cottages, parks, and magnificently landscaped downtown walkways amidst galleries and shops are a tourist attraction known around the country. “Fairhope’s downtown has been described as an Old World Village,” wrote a Southern Breeze travel writer in late 2005. “Even the trash receptacles double as planters. Art galleries, cafes, boutiques, located right there near Mobile Bay – Fairhope is not only picturesque, it is one of the best places to live.” Richard Young’s Intelligence Report C ranks Fairhope as one of the ten best “village communities” in the country for real estate investment. “It’s been documented time and again what happens to small towns once the big box arrives. We have too much at stake to risk Fairhope becoming another Wal-Mart casualty,” Wilson concluded. For contacts in Fairhope, email [email protected]. Search by the town’s name for earlier stories.