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Wal-Mart Strikes Compromise To Gain Beachhead In Vermont

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., America’s retailing Superman, finally overcame its toughest adversary - tiny Vermont, the one state without a Wal-Mart.

It wasn’t easy and the Bentonville, Ark., retailer paid the price. Wal-Mart won’t have a megastore with acres of free parking, precisely the setup critics across the country claim kills downtown life.

Instead, Wal-Mart will make its home in a former F.W. Woolworths store in downtown Bennington. The 50,000-square-foot store, about 10 miles from the New York border, is about half the size of a typical Wal-Mart.

In a state that worships the small and the old, Wal-Mart’s decision to open shop in the heart of town drew praise.

“From the beginning, we have not been opposed to Wal-Mart,” said Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. “We have, however, been strongly opposed to proposed locations that sprawl into the countryside and undermine the strength of our downtowns.”

Wal-Mart has battled environmentalists and preservationists in Vermont and other New England states for years.

In Vermont, Wal-Mart came under attack for plans to open stores of between 100,000 and 200,000 square feet on the outskirts of several towns.

Local protesters had dubbed Wal-Mart stores “Sprawl-Marts,” distributed leaflets, held rallies, made bumper stickers and claimed the stores would hurt the environment and small businesses.

Wal-Mart President David Glass said the downtown Bennington store will be good for consumers and make use of a building that’s now empty.

“We feel we are developing properties that will meet the needs of Vermont’s consumers,” he said.

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