OK, here’s a classic Wal-Mart profile for every municipal official to learn from: the case of West Boylston, MA. On January 7, 1999, Wal-Mart officials went before the town Zoning Board of Appeals to ask for a special permit to allow their existing store on Route 12 to stay open 24 hours a day. Wal-Mart did not ask to do retail business all night — just to keep the store open to allow its workers to stock inventory, maybe do Wal-Mart cheers — whatever those Walmartians do late at night. Wal-Mart also asked for permission to make sales all night during the run up to Xmas, which for them means November 1st. to Christmas. The Wal-Mart petition was unanimously denied by the ZBA — but the real story is what the good townspeople of this small community had to say about their Arkansas neighbor. Of the 50 people who showed up for the hearing, the Worcester Telegram-Gazette reported that no one spoke in favor of the Wal-Mart plan. Wayne LeBlanc, Chairman of the Selectman, testified that his Board was opposed to the petition, listing “a chronology of complaints” from neighbors and town officials that dates back more than 3 years long. “Wal-Mart,” said LeBlanc, “has not been a good neighbor.” This town’s gripe list against Wal-Mart includes excessive trash, too much noise, poor snow removal, storage of wooden pallets in the parking lot, and breaking rules for their hours of operation. The back of the Wal-Mart building abuts Worcester St, which is directly across from a residential neighborhood. The town described a 2 year battle with Wal-Mart over a buffer zone of trees behind the store. This privacy barrier was damaged during the winter of 1997, and Wal-Mart removed them. “They throw money at the problem,” LeBlanc complained. “That’s the way they operate around the country.” The newspaper notes that many residents complained about the noise issue, about lowered property value, and other broken promises. Some neighbors came to the hearing with photos of trash piles extending into the neighborhood, and empty bags stuck in nearby trees. The Chairman of the Town’s Board of Health said that he, along with the West Boylston Police, forced Wal-Mart to close down a couple of times: once because of a sewer back-up, and again to locate the source of fumes in the building. Finally, the Town Administrator submitted a letter to the board. He urged the ZBA to reject the petition, and noted that Wal-Mart generates the most police calls of any retail establishment in town. He suggested that if Wal-Mart was allowed to open 24 hours a day, they should also be required to hire a police detail during its extended hours of operation.
For another account of police problems at Wal-Mart, see the October 12, 1998 newflash entry for Kilmarnock, VA. Take this newflash, clip it, and mail it to your local municipal officials. The next time Wal-Mart starts talking about being a good neighbor, ask them why people in towns like West Boylston, MA or Tappahannock, VA have just about had their fill of Wal-Mart headaches. This little hearing at the ZBA in West Boylston is exactly why so many neighbors across America are saying: “Wal-Mart, Not in My Neighborhood.” As a footnote, just up the street from Wal-Mart, less than a mile away, is the Wachusetts Plaza. It’s a large, half-empty mall that has a meager Price-Chopper grocery store on one end, and few scattered retail uses on the other. In the middle is a big empty cavern with a “space available” sign in it. In the middle of its huge, empty parking lot, is a large yellow snow plow, just sitting there, idle proof that Wal-Mart traffic going by has done nothing to save this dead mall.