Monday, June 12, 2006

Answer to Wal-Marts Mailing

Opinion column published in todays Adirondack Daily Enterprise below.

Unsolicited mail

By Gloria Volz and Doug Haney, Save Saranac Lake Coalition

How many Adirondack residents enjoy hiking up Saranac Lake’s Mount Baker?

For such a brief walk, the views of the village of Saranac Lake, Lake Flower, the High Peaks and the Saranac Lakes chain are unparalleled. For some, it’s a morning walk with the dog, a lunchtime retreat from work or an evening out with family. Locals take it for granted, and yet each time, the view is new, refreshing and reminds us of why we live in this beautifully unspoiled mountain community.

Many Saranac Lake residents recently received an unsolicited piece of mail from the Wal-Mart corporation. Both the front and back cover display was an early fall photograph of Mount Baker with the Saranac River slowly meandering in the foreground. The photo is quiet, peaceful and above all, naturally perfect.

Upon opening the mailing, one is faced with an artistic rendering of the proposed 121,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter. The elongated brown sketch unemotionally sprawls across a bifold page without representation of a parking lot or any indication of McKenzie Mountain, Moose Mountain or Mount Baker, which are normally clearly visible behind the proposed site.

The caption reads “Wal-Mart: A store designed to fit Saranac Lake.”

The piece then goes on to state that the structure will be “designed with your community in mind” and delivers four bullet points touting job creation, revenue generation of sales tax and local property taxes, “an additional local shopping choice” and also that the store will be “in keeping with the distinct character of Saranac Lake.”

Point: The average pay for a Wal-Mart sales associate is $1,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. Business as usual? Not necessarily. Retail rival Costco pays its workers 65 percent more on average than Wal-Mart, yet earns more profits per employee. According to a study performed by the University of Missouri, Wal-Mart boosts retail employment by 100 jobs in the first year, far less than the 200 promised due to the downsizing and layoffs of existing retailers that struggle to compete. Over the next four years, there is a loss of 40 to 60 more retail jobs as new area business becomes stagnant.

Point: Wal-Mart fails to mention the loss in taxes that will come from local businesses being forced to shut down. It also fails to mention the additional cost to our communities for extra services and infrastructure maintenance, which the village must provide for such a commercial addition.

Point: The only Wal-Mart in the Adirondacks is in Ticonderoga. When that 111,000-square-foot store was proposed in 1997, the company said it would not seek a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), but it later applied for and received a 10-year PILOT agreement.

Point: At 121,000 square feet, the store would be larger than the three biggest retail locations in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake combined before adding the more than 600 parking spaces that would be required to support a retail location of this size. In comparison, a football field is 57,600 square feet; therefore, the proposed Saranac Lake Wal-Mart would be larger than four football fields, including a parking lot illuminated 24 hours a day.

If Wal-Mart truly wished to build a “Supercenter designed with your community in mind,” it would have asked for your input before dropping a postcard of the store in your mailbox.

Once the view is changed, it is changed forever.

If you’d like to support positive growth for the village of Saranac Lake and the continued health of our All-America City, contact the Save Saranac Lake Coalition by e-mailing or via post: P.O. Box 643, Saranac Lake, NY 12983.

The SSLC would like to commend our elected officials for making a decision that will ensure a healthy future for Saranac Lake. They haven’t locked the door on retail development; they’ve simply given the village of Saranac Lake the key.

This letter was a collaborative effort by the steering committee of the Save Saranac Lake Coalition. Gloria Volz lives in Lake Clear, and Doug Haney lives in Saranac Lake.

Documentation for the 4 points made in the above column can be found on this blog.

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