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Wal-Mart beware

City Council to look at strategies for keeping so-called "box stores" out of Madras
News Editor
   Madras officials indicated recently that they may consider methods to prevent so-called "box stores" from opening shop in the city in an effort to preserve Madras' small-town feel and the vitality of locally owned businesses.
   During the Dec. 11 City Council meeting, Madras Mayor Rick Allen told councilors to "start sniffing around" for ideas to keep mega-chain stores like Wal-Mart out of town.
   "Wal-Marts literally destroy small towns. And they don't coach soccer. They don't donate to the Collage," said Allen, suggesting that a large corporation such as Wal-Mart might not support the myriad of local causes.
   With time and money being invested into the city's plans for an urban renewal district, Allen warned city officials that a Wal-Mart could ruin those efforts by wiping out the city's locally owned downtown businesses.
   Chamber of Commerce director Parrish Van Wert responded from the gallery with a warning of his own: "Rick," he said, "you should move on that very soon."
   The City Council discussed the idea only briefly during the community comments portion of its meeting. They examined a recent article regarding Hood River's fledgling efforts to prevent the corporation from expanding its local store into a Wal-Mart Supercenter, complete with groceries. Hood River has a population of roughly 6,000.
   Allen said he isn't against bigger retail stores opening in Madras, just stores the magnitude of Wal-Mart. He sited an outlet mall, for example, as a more acceptable addition to the city.
   Staunch critics of Wal-Mart believe the chain store destroys the economic well being of small towns it builds in. They say it wipes out locally owned businesses and replaces those jobs with minimum-wage workers with lousy benefits and little chance for promotion.
   Some Wal-Mart opponents in academic circles have even gone so far as to say the growth of the chain and other corporations like it is leading the country into a dangerous future -- one in which a growing disparity between rich and poor they say is directly linked to their expansion will have dire consequences down the road. They've even given their theory a name: the so-called "Wal-Martization of America."
   Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ranked No. 2 on the Fortune 500 list of most successful businesses this year, generating $193 billion in revenue. It is the largest private sector employer in the U.S.
   Allen said many towns oppose Wal-Marts when they begin applying for site plans, but the steps they take to prevent their construction usually begin too late.
   "Most people talk about preserving their small town feeling but don't ever do anything about it," he said. "(We) can do something special and neat."
   He said Madras has several options to prevent a Wal-Mart or similar chain stores from arriving, such as approving zoning laws that deal with square footage limits on stores and their parking lots. Allen cited Vermont as a state that has successfully kept Wal-Mart out through legislative methods.
   Van Wert said after the meeting that the Chamber of Commerce would comply with any decision the city and its citizens pursued regarding the matter.
   "If that's the direction the City Council wants to go, they should begin that process as soon as possible," he said. "Because large box stores are already here looking."