ELLSWORTH – Wal-Mart representatives told Ellsworth-area business owners Tuesday the proposed 200,000-square-foot Supercenter south of the city will bring little new competition to the local economy.
The building – open 24 hours a day – would house a grocery store, eye care center, garden center and possibly a banking center, as well as Wal-Mart’s conventional retail items, said Robert Moody, Wal-Mart’s senior real estate manager for New England.
Moody and other Wal-Mart officials said at a meeting arranged by the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce that the Supercenter would include more than 1,000 parking spaces with access to Route 3 and the Beechland Road.
The store would be built near the Hilltop House and Ellsworth Giant Sub on the primary road between Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island.
The Supercenter is among at least four the Arkansas retailer has proposed for coastal and northern Maine. Others are proposed in Bangor, the Rockland area, Belfast and Presque Isle. The company already has Supercenters in southern Maine and Augusta.
But Wal-Mart has not made clear whether it intends to build Supercenters in each of the areas in which it is buying land and obtaining permits.
Keith Morris, community affairs director for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said the Ellsworth economy already is thriving – with its present Wal-Mart – and that adding groceries and garden products to the product lines shouldn’t harm local businesses.
“We’re only adding grocery space,” Morris said. “The only thing that’s new, that we don’t offer today that you’ll see, is the groceries.”
A site plan for the Supercenter was brought before Ellsworth’s planning board during a July meeting. If constructed, the shopping complex would dwarf the 94,000-square-foot store just off Route 3 that opened in 1993.
The Supercenter would open sometime in 2002.
“It would be a lot different if this were a hardware store coming here for the first time,” Morris said. “Ellsworth is not a town. It’s a city. As such, there’s going to be growth here.”
Morris also said Wal-Mart has been a “good corporate citizen” in Maine, spending more than $108 million on contracts with 417 Maine businesses to help bring products to Wal-Mart stores.
And each store, Morris noted, has donated an average of $50,000 to nonprofits in the communities in which they do business.
Moody said running the Supercenter would take about 250 jobs – of which about 70 percent would be full time. He also said Wal-Mart likely would hold job fairs months in advance of the store’s opening and survey the payrolls of area businesses to determine competitive wages for the new positions.
Thelma Beal, a manager at the Ellsworth Shop ‘n Save, said her store already has problems meeting staffing requirements.
With the addition of the Supercenter, Beal wonders from where the new employees would come. And, Beal added, existing Ellsworth businesses could be hurt by the loss of employees to the new Wal-Mart store.
Not everyone at Tuesday’s meeting believes a Wal-Mart Supercenter would be a friendly competitor in the Ellsworth marketplace.
Pat Stanley, owner of the Narrows Campground, decried the “big-box” company as a business designed to eliminate small businesses and funnel money back to Arkansas – home of Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters.
“I want to know how many millions and billions of dollars have been taken out of the state and sent to Arkansas,” Stanley asked the Wal-Mart representatives. She often raised her voice as she spoke and at times waved a paperback book entitled: “How Wal-Mart is Destroying America.”
“Money doesn’t get sent to Arkansas,” Morris told Stanley. Wal-Mart employees, he said, “have a payroll of about $6 million. Those emloyees work here and live here.”
Stanley also complained that Wal-Mart allows recreational vehicles and campers to park in their lots overnight, saying the parking lots lack the proper hookups and constitute a health hazard to the community.
At times she called the overnight parking lots “illegal campgrounds.”
Morris said here is no corporate policy allowing the overnight parking of RVs at Wal-Mart stores and added that any use of the parking lots is left to each store manager’s discretion.
Moody also told the Ellsworth business owners that Wal-Mart’s dispositions department would handle the sale of the existing Wal-Mart store once a Supercenter is constructed. The company also is planning to sell existing stores in Auburn and Bangor once the company has completed plans for Supercenters in those cities.