Wal-Mart wants to be the main retailer in Maine, and has launched a multi-town assault on vacationland. Sprawl-busters in Rockland, Topsham and Belfast are already organized to push the corporate giant back into its shell, and now opposition is forming in Ellsworth, where the Bangor Daily News reports a Wal-Mart sighting. The company has already been defeated in one location in Rockland, and opponents in Belfast feel they can block the zoning change there that Wal-Mart wants (see newsflash below). In Ellsworth, Wal-Mart sent a letter to the Planning Board saying they were looking to locate on a parcel along Route 3 to build a 185,000 s.f. supercenter, which would be just about the size of 4 footballs fields. The land happens to be owned by a city councilor in Ellsworth, and was slated to be a business park. The parcel is accessed through a 2 lane road. The chairman of the Planning Board wants to know what Wal-Mart is planning to do with its current Wal-Mart store in Ellsworth, also on Route 3. The Chairman, John Fink, told the Bangor Daily News that when he is near the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Augusta, “he tries not to look at it…” He’s going to have a hard time averting his eyes from a 185,000 s.f. dead piece of architecture that will mar the Ellsworth landscape for at least a decade.
If officials in Ellsworth want to know what Wal-Mart will do with a dead store in town, they should call Wal-Mart real estate and ask them what they are doing with the more than 300 empty stores that Wal-Mart has crawled out of and left in an “available” state. One caller this week told me of a Wal-Mart store that was emptied out, sat vacant for years, and finally the county bought it and had it demolished. When I added up all the “available” space that Wal-Mart had sitting idle, it came to more than 20,000,000 s.f. of vacant capacity. I refer to the company as “the Portable Retailer”. As the superstores are replacing the discount stores, more and more communities are asking for whose convenience are these larger stores being built: the customers, or the stockholders? The major advantage is to Wal-Mart, which is using the larger store as the vehicle to dominate the grocery industry, and lure shoppers into their stores on a more frequent basis. But in Ellsworth, Topsham, Rockland, and Belfast, Mainers are ready to shove Wal-Mart overboard.