Facebook Group Wants to Unfriend Walmart

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A Facebook group for local residents unhappy with news that a Walmart Supercenter was headed our way has more than 200 friends and counting.

"Stop the Walmart Supercenter in North Adams!" was launched days after it was announced the global discounter was proposing a 160,000-square-foot store at the city's former gravel yard across from H. Greenberg & Son's on Curran Highway.

Friends of "Stop the Walmart" range from outright opposition to those who at least want the community informed and involved in the decision to allow the big-box operator to expand here.

The group was started by resident Joshua Field, who wrote us that while he doesn't think the new store can be stopped, the Facebook page will "make folks aware of the plans and to give them a forum to discuss or organize."

The organizing has begun: the Facebook friends will meet face-to-face on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Cup & Saucer on Main Street to discuss Walmart.

The Planning Board is expected to take up the project at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 14, at 6 p.m.

"We have a Walmart already and I value being in a community that values local and small businesses," said Sandra Thomas, a member of the group and North Adams resident. "The community hasn't been involved or given the opportunity to decide if a Supercenter good for the community ... it concerns building a Walmart significantly larger and leaving another empty building in town."

As often as it's been welcomed, Walmart's run into opposition as it moved into more rural areas. Vermont kept the giant retailer out of the state for years, before it slipped into a vacant Woolworth's in Bennington in 1995.

Proponents say it brings in less-expensive items, creates jobs and pays taxes; opponents say the jobs are low-paying and lack benefits, its merchandise is from overseas, it kills competition and it's the death knell for small downtowns.

There was no real opposition when Wal-Mart Stores built the current 97,000-square-foot shell more than a decade ago — though some bemoaned the loss of the drive-in theater it replaced (Editor: me, too). But the downtown had already been devastated by the closure of local manufacturing plants and the construction of the mall in Lanesborough. The city also had a Kmart, which closed in 2002.

But the Supercenter will offer far more than socks and kitty litter. The $15 million to $20 million store will include a tire center, grocery and larger garden and electronics departments. With the added development of a Lowe's next to it, the Supercenter could damage not just local businesses like Mr. Tire and Greenberg's but smaller, established chains like Big Y Supermarket, say opponents.

"I think that it is important to look at the expansion of Walmart not simply in terms of short-term benefits but also to consider long-term detriments," wrote Field in an e-mail to iBerkshires. "For example, money spent ends up flowing away from the city and into the coffers of corporate shareholders. When one spends money with a local merchant, they might then hire a local roofer, who might then go out to dinner at a local restaurant with the extra dollars that are now in his pocket."

Another member, Anthony Israel of North Adams, said his initial reaction was anti-Walmart, but on reflection, that it should be the community deciding together with enough information - and having the ability to ask questions.

"I think that giving we just had an election in North Adams that's all about openness of government processes that there needs to be a real open forum that everybody can attend where the pros and cons of the Walmart can be addressed and so that real questions can be asked," he said.

The discounter could have the ability, for example, to deliver healthier organic food at cheaper prices to low-income people, he said, which could offset some cons.

Thomas, however, worries that the city will simply accept Walmart rather than placing it in the context of economic development planning. "It really can change the landscape of a community," she said. "What effect will it have on the economy other than the tax base? How many full-time positions will it create? What benefits will it offer?"

Mayor-elect Richard Alcombright told The North Adams Transcript last week that the development was a good thing, that with Lowe's, "we're talking possibly $30 million worth of development. The jobs that will stimulate is a very good thing."

On Tuesday, he said Walmart will go through a public, open process — from construction specs to traffic to signage.

"Just like any other project, the Walmart has to through the Planning Board. That is the place to vet any concerns," said Alcombright.

But the incoming mayor said he, too, wants to keep on top of it and plans to attend Monday's Planning Board meeting.
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April Snow in the Forecast


Main Street in North Adams on Wednesday.
Say goodbye to this burst of spring — Mother Nature prefers a little chaos in her work.
 
The warm temperatures of Wednesday are about to plummet as a snowstorm — yes a snowstorm — bears down on the Berkshires. 
 
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for Pittsfield north and parts of Southern Vermont beginning Thursday evening through Friday night. Total accumulations could reach 6 inches in the higher elevations.
 
Accuweather is forecasting up to 10 inches with rain all day Thursday and temperatures dipping into the 40s. Thursday night will temperatures dropping into the 30s.
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