This week Wal-Mart announced once again that it is slowing down the rate of growth of new supercenters in the United States. In June of 2007 the retailer announced a sharp cutback in superstore plans, and since then, Sprawl-Busters has tallied at least 70 superstore projects across America that were either cancelled or delayed. Wal-Mart told analysts on June 17th that for the second year in a row it will be slowing down superstore growth. Wal-Mart said it remains focused on moderating supercenter store growth in the United States. The impact of that statement is being felt in small town after small town, where citizen activists are breathing a sigh of relief. The tiny town of Lincoln, Maine is one of those communities affected by the cutback. Lincoln has a population of only 5,231. It also has a 55,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store on West Broadway, which serves as the regional discount store for the area. The nearest Wal-Mart is 38 miles to the south in Bangor. The town’s Economic Development Assistant brought town officials the news that Wal-Mart has put all its Maine projects on hold, including the expansion of the Lincoln store. According to the Bangor Daily News, the town employee knew the expansion was dead two weeks ago, when Wal-Mart’s New York real estate office told her about the cancellation. The retailer is ranking all its proposed projects. “Once they have completed that, they will review every Maine project to see which project they will abandon or follow through with,” the town official said. She added that whether or not Lincoln’s expansion ever gets back on track depends on “positive community responses.” The Economic Development Assistant said many residents wanted the 55,000 s.f. store to expand to a 99,000 s.f. supercenter in order to give existing grocery stores more competition. Instead of conserving the existing building, Wal-Mart planned to tear down its existing store, and build from scratch the supercenter, which would remain open 24 hours a day. Local officials described the Wal-Mart expansion as “the key to Lincoln becoming a more dominant retail center and also becoming a location for more big-box outlets,” according to the Bangor Daily News. Wal-Mart’s rhetoric that it would create 175 new full- and part-time jobs was never challenged by town officials or the newspaper. Wal-Mart owns the land for the expansion, and has already received town permits for the project.
Lincoln describes itself as “your hometown no matter where you are.” As the town tries to attract bigger and bigger stores, it sinks further into anonymity — a kind of anywhere hometown. The town wants to appeal to tourists as being “undiscovered Maine,” but when the tourists arrive, the biggest store they discover will remind them of what they left back home — a Wal-Mart. The town brags that it has nearly 70 miles of shore frontage, 19 miles of river frontage, over 4,300 acres of water, and 22,000 acres of woodland. They don’t mention Wal-Mart once. “Our downtown and surrounding retail business area is active, vibrant, and the business owners are anxious to help you with any of your needs for goods and services,” the town says. “Lincoln is the retail hub for a population of nearly 25,000 people. With all its growth and improvements, Lincoln still retains its small New England town character.” This vision of the small New England town just does not fit with a 99,000 s.f. supercenter. Readers are urged to send some “negative community responses” to the town, by contacting the Chair of the Lincoln Town Council, Stephen Clay, at (207) 794-3372. Give Mr. Clay the following message: “Chairman Clay, Now that Wal-Mart has left Lincoln standing at the altar, its time to think about putting a cap on the size of retail buildings of 60,000 s.f. The one Wal-Mart you have is large enough for your small population base — including the summer tourists. You say that Lincoln still retains its small New England town character, but once Wal-Mart takes that away from you, you can’t buy it back at any price. Tearing down one Wal-Mart and building a bigger one is not a form of economic development for Lincoln. If Wal-Mart’s expansion into groceries forces one or two existing grocers to close, what new jobs will have been created? Last year Wal-Mart cancelled or delayed 70 other supercenters. Lincoln is # 71. Use this as an opportunity to tighen up your zoning code to keep out suburban sprawl. Many towns in Maine have led the anti-big box movement by passing laws to limit size. Act now before some other national chain tries to destroy your small town scale. The Wal-Mart store you have now is roughly the size of a football field — not counting the huge parking lot. How many cheap Chinese imports does one small town really need?”