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Another Brick in the Wal?

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Is the world's largest company looking for more green in the Green Mountain State? That's what about 140 Vermonters came to find out last week at a meeting in Stowe Town Hall, sponsored by the Vermont Natural Resources Council. The VNRC claims that Wal-Mart is "discussing" the feasibility of building seven new stores in the state -- there are four already -- including one about nine miles from Stowe. The Montpelier-based environmental group opposes the construction of new Wal-Marts and other big-box stores because of their impacts on traffic, sprawl, retail wages and the economic viability of small, local businesses.

But a Wal-Mart spokesperson says the company has no plans to locate new stores in Vermont except for the 147,000-square-foot store now under consideration in St. Albans. Elsewhere is another matter. In the coming fiscal year, Wal-Mart expects to build about 300 new stores worldwide, totaling 50 million square feet of new retail space. In fact, a new Wal-Mart opens somewhere in the world every 42 hours.

Middlebury-based author Bill McKibben, who spoke at last week's meeting in Stowe, says that if Wal-Mart had 11 stores in the state, it would save Vermonters about $36 million annually -- about $50 per person. Still, he suggests the losses would far outweigh the savings.

"Wal-Mart is, in a sense, doing us a great favor by proposing this invasion in Vermont," McKibben says. "It is forcing us to ask a deep question, and that question is, what do we value most -- lowest prices always, or our neighbors, their jobs, our towns, our land, our cultures?"