March 16, 2008 in City

Wal-Mart tables Montana superstore

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

MISSOULA – Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has decided not to build a Supercenter south of Hamilton, a company spokesman said.

Wal-Mart won a contentious battle several years ago for the right to build a 158,000-square-foot store, but the company announced earlier this month that its corporate strategy has switched from building new stores to expanding existing stores.

“For now, we’re holding off on building any type of store,” said spokesman Josh Phair. “This is a short-term step, and certainly longer term we will take advantage of any opportunities that arise.”

In April 2006, the community passed an ordinance limiting the size of retail stores in Ravalli County to 60,000 square feet.

Wal-Mart mounted an effort to have that reversed. In the November 2006 election, voters overturned the ordinance, 51 percent to 48 percent.

Many members of the community were concerned that the giant retailer would hurt local businesses.

“This is a reprieve,” said Russell Lawrence, co-owner of the Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton. “But we still have to prove to the community that local, independently owned businesses still have value. It is meaningless unless we start a conversation on what we want the community to look like, economically as well as physically.”

Dallas Erickson, chairman of Citizens for Economic Opportunity – which supported Wal-Mart on the grounds of free enterprise – said he’ll be watching to see if county commissioners again try to limit the size of retail stores.

He said it’s a shame Wal-Mart is “letting down the people who wanted it here. A lot of people have health problems and can’t afford to drive to the Supercenter in Missoula.”

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