It’s “smaller” than their usual superstore — and it won’t say “superstore” over the entrance. But the bitterly-fought Wal-Mart supercenter in Woodland Park, Colorado, which opens today, is neither a wood land, nor a park. The retail giant fought with city officials to keep the words “We Sell For Less” on the side of the store’s entrance — and the won. Citizen opposition to this store dragged on for nearly three years. On November 19, 2004, Sprawl-Busters wrote about the controversy over this store, which lies between the town of Woodland Park, and Pike’s Peak. The new superstore will be the first thing travelers see as they drive up Ute pass to Woodland Park. Wal-Mart chose to give the “skin” of the store a mountain architectural theme. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the store is “not your basic, boring big box.” It is painted brown and green to match the landscape around it, and the use of timber and stone features gives it a “lodgelike atmosphere,” according to the newspaper. The crowning touch is a “life-size brass statue of a mule deer buck” at the store entrance. When this store first raised its antlers in the fall of 2004, neighbors wrote to Sprawl-Busters, explaining that Woodland Park “does have very strict architectural, landscaping and lighting codes on the books.” But city officials really wanted their statue of a brass deer, and when Wal-Mart complained that if they were forced to take down their “We Sell For Less” sign, the brass deer would have to go too, the town stuck with the deer and kept the “We Sell For Less” sign. “It’s not as pretty as having elk wintering there and horses there all the time, but if you have to have a Wal-Mart, I guess this isn’t a bad-looking one,” one of the leaders of the citizens group that fought Wal-Mart told The Gazette. The town’s Downtown Development Director, who helped negotiate the brass deer deal, told the newspaper, “There were some who said, ‘Do we really need a Supercenter?’ and ‘They are way too big,’ so we were glad to see they scaled it down for the market.” When Wal-Mart threatened to kill the brass deer, the Downtown Developnment Director said, “It took me all of three seconds to say, you know, I can live with ‘We Sell for Less.'” Once you get past the brass deer, and actually enter the store, the inside is just another big box. “The inside will look pretty much like your typical Wal-Mart,” a company spokesman admitted.
In this battle of symbols, Wal-Mart won. The town got its brass deer, Wal-Mart got its superstore with its superfluous signs on the walls — but the residents of Woodland Park got another huge piece of sprawl in an otherwise scenic area. The city has also been engaged in a major downtown revitalization project, and a Wal-Mart on the edge of town jeopardizes that multi-million investment. Wal-Mart has been making these symbolic gestures for more than 15 years. In Keene, New Hamsphire, for example, Wal-Mart offered to paint its store “earth tones” in 1994 — and the local planning board swooned as if Martha Stewart had come up with the idea. Wal-Mart readily admits that it is happy to offer the natives such trinkets as the color of the skin, or minor design control. “We obviously have to work within a budget and a business model, but when we can meet everybody’s expectations and kind of create a store that fits the community, then we see it as a win-win,” a company spokesman told The Gazette. But when Colorado Springs told Wal-Mart their store needed to be broken down into smaller buildings — the “fit the community” idea had gone too far for the retailer. One leader of the group Citizens for Responsible Growth, which fought this store for three years, told the newspaper that any big-box store is inappropriate for the Woodland Park area, and he feels city leaders sealed the deal with Wal-Mart before citizens could react. “It was a done deal long before they went public,” he said. One resident interviewed by the newspaper said she still objected to the 24/7 operations of the store — brass deer or not. She said the size of the store was still too large. “It doesn’t fit in,” she said. Woodland Park officials sold out for a brass symbol of the real thing. Instead of open space with deer and elk, they have an asphalt and concrete “mountain” store. The people who moved to Woodland Park to be closer to that wilderness feeling in Colorado, and the tourists going to Pike’s Peak, are not likely to be wild about Wal-Mart’s new supercenter. And that brass deer, which probably cost a couple thousand bucks, will allow Wal-Mart to make roughly $60 million at year in sales in Woodland Park. All because Woodland Park officials sold out for less.