The mood in Rapho township, Pennslyvania, is a lot lighter this week-end, as the shadow of a Wal-Mart supercenter has suddenly disappeared. The Intelligencer Journal reports today that Wal-Mart has let its option to buy 25 acres in Rapho along Route 283 expire, and they have not renewed it. The 200,000 s.f. superstore that would have been squeezed onto that land is also gone. “Wal-Mart’s option ran out, and they’re no longer interested in the site,” Rapho Township Supervisor Jere Swarr said. The landowner informed town officials of this dramatic change yesterday afternoon, so word is still spreading throughout this small community in scenic Lancaster county. Thus ends more than two years of turmoil in Rapho, when Wal-Mart first introduced a sketch of its plan to supervisors around Christmas of 2004. The company never did submit an application, though, but the shadow of the plan loomed over the town. As in many communities, all it took was Wal-Mart’s shadow to spur an opposition group into life. The Community & Farm Alliance, a group of local businesses, farmers and residents fought the plan since April of 2005. “We’re thrilled with the news,” Alliance spokeswoman Roxanne Bybel told the Intelligencer. “We feel the people and the community have spoken. We understand that our community will grow, but we want to see controlled growth that fits the needs of the community, and we want to keep the small-town atmosphere of the Elizabethtown-Mount Joy area. When you walk into locally owned stores, people really do know your name. Wal-Mart does not fit the needs of Lancaster County.” The citizen’s group also fought a Home Depot and Lowe’s proposed for neighboring Mount Joy.
I visited Rapho roughly ten years ago when I spoke to citizens in several Lancaster county towns. That visit, which become part of a 60 Minutes TV show, focused on how small towns could beat large retailers. At the time, there were 3 separate discount stores planned for the area, and each one had attracted opposition. Lancaster county’s rural charm attracted more than tourists — it attracted big box retailers too. But citizens in the county have stayed with the cause, and their tenacious battle just paid off in Rapho. The discount stores of the 1990s have given way to the superstores of the 2000s, and as the stores have grown, so has the opposition in Lancaster county.