Wenatchee, Washington is known as the “Apple Capital of the World.” But this city of roughly 30,000 people has some priorities that are more important even than apples. In 1995, the city voted to allow Wal-Mart to build in an apple orchard. Many parts of the country would fight for an apple orchard, but the city fathers in Wenatchee gave one up for Wal-Mart store #2187. Now the city has to make another decision: whether to allow the existing Wal-Mart to get even bigger. This week, the prolific Northwest Wal-Mart developer, PacLand, came to little Wenatchee to talk about expanding the store on North Wenatchee Avenue into a supercenter. The current store at 92,000 s.f. would be expanded to 154,000 s.f. — a 67% increase in size. Wal-Mart is promising that the 13 year old store will be thoroughly updated. “The front will be beautified and will include outside seating,” a Wal-Mart spokesman gushed. “The inside will be fully remodeled, with new fixtures, floors and lighting. The pharmacy will also be moving more toward the grocery store.” Wal-Mart told the Wenatchee World newspaper that the company does not expect the ‘kind of backlash’ the store encountered in the mid 1990s. “I think the original opposition was due to the fact that the area was an apple orchard,” the Wal-Mart spokesman admitted. “All we’re doing now is adding three walls and giving the store a face-lift.” The newspaper quoted a resident from the citizen’s group that fought the store unsuccessfully 13 years ago, the Wenatchee Neighbors for Growth Management. “We didn’t think it was good for the neighborhood then,” the anti-Wal-Mart activist said, “and the expansion probably won’t be good for the neighborhood now. But I think I’d like to take a look at the plans and the traffic flow before I give any kind of reaction.” Local residents will have time to review the plans, because Wal-Mart says the company won’t be ready to expand until 2010. “We still need to get all our ducks in a row. Today’s meeting was just a review of the site plans, looking at parking spaces and the proposed landscaping and things like that,” the Wal-Mart official said.
In reality, if citizens in the Apple Capital of the World want to prevent the worm in their apple from getting bigger, they have to get organized now — before the apple drops. Wal-Mart already has their site plans prepared, and is talking details with city officials. These elected officials might want to consider what impact a Wal-Mart grocery store might have on existing grocers, like Safeway and Albertson’s, which pay their workers more, and pump more money into the local economy. This Wal-Mart expansion will be promoted as a jobs and taxes project — but it is neither. Most of Wal-Mart’s sales will come from existing merchants, and the net change in jobs will be negligible. The city does not need a 154,000 s.f. store — a building that this more than 2.5 times the size of a football field — not counting the parking lot. Wenatchee has to decide if it is the capital of apples, or sprawl. It’s possible to have growth in the retial sector which is appropriate in scale, and character to a small city that thrives on its agricultural heritage. But a standard suburban prototype is not the way to go — even if Wal-Mart says the skin of the store will be “beautiful.” It’s still a huge box, totally out of scale with the rest of the natural and built environment. Readers are urged to email Wenatchee Mayor Dennis Johnson at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Johnson, Your small city is justifiably proud of its heritage and quality of life. Your historic downtown was awarded a ‘Great American Main Street Award’ five years ago by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But now you are putting that reputation, and the character of your community at risk, by letting big box sprawl in your city get bigger. Wenatchee does not need another grocery store — which is all that the proposed Wal-Mart expansion will bring. Studies suggest that for every Wal-Mart supercenter that opens, two local grocery stores close. This expansion proposal brings no added value economically to your city. It will bring more crime and more traffic — but it is not a form of economic development. Stick with being the Apple Capital of the World, and let some other community take the sprawl. You gave up one apple orchard for a Wal-Mart. That’s one more than enough. I urge you not to let the worm in your apple get bigger.”