Wal-Mart is aiming for a twofer one in the tiny community of Presque Isle. According to The Star Herald newspaper, Wal-Mart is expected to file plans this week in City Hall to dramatically increase the size of its store to create a Wal-Mart superstore. According to sprawl-busters in Presque Isle, a community of roughly 12,500 people, the existing Wal-Mart has been around since 1993, and measures in at 97,000 s.f. When they built their store, the city agreed to let them expand by another 30,000 s.f. at a later date. Well, Wal-Mart has come back with plans to double the size of the store to 185,000 s.f, and the plan will get an airing on August 18th. The store Wal-Mart has in mind is identical to the size of one just opened in Augusta, ME — but Presque Isle is nothing like Augusta, and the residents who live there shudder to think of imitating life in Augusta. The only difference between the existing Wal-Mart and the supercenter is the addition of a grocery store. But Presque Isle already has a 50,000 s.f. IGA, a 5,000 s.f. IGA, a 7,000 s.f. Sure Fine, and a 40,000 s.f. Graves Shop N Save. In fact, the Wal-Mart expansion will be right next door to the Shop N Save, which has been a fixture in the city since 1935. Nearby the Wal-Mart is the struggling Aroostook Center Mall, which has lost a Rite Aid, a Penney’s and a Sears. Ames closed its doors within 6 months after Wal-Mart first came to town. The City’s Community Development Director called the doubling of Wal-Mart’s size “a relatively simple set of changes.” The Star Herald suggested that a Wal-Mart Supercenter would boost employment from 200 to 400 jobs, but if the Shop N Save alone closes, that will take down 100 jobs from that one business. Others wonder how long the Kmart at Aroostock Center Mall will last. No impact study has been conducted to assess the real net impact of a superstore coming to the limited trade area of Presque Isle.
By locating right next to an existing grocery store which has been around for 60 years in town, area residents fear that the local market will simply be gutted with food stores. The basic myth about superstore development is that the more grocery stores you add to a trade area, the more we spent on groceries. Following out this logic, that suggests that we become hungrier as more food stores are added, which means we eat more and become fatter, our rate of heart disease climbs, and revenues to area hospitals increase. Economic Lesson? The advent of a Wal-Mart supercenter will be good for the bottom line in Bentonville, Arkansas, and good for the health care business in Aroostook County. But there is no reason for Presque Isle to try to imitate Augusta or Bangor just to satisfy Wal-Mart’s bottom line cravings. Area shoppers have the key to requiring Wal-Mart to do a little belt-tightening of its own: Don’t shop at sprawl-marts! One Wal-Mart is enough for Presque Isle. There is no need to double the trouble in this small community.