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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Maine Coast, Some Try to Keep Wal-Mart at Bay

by Brian MacQuarrie

WALDOBORO, Maine - The sea-scented streets of downtown Waldoboro look more like a theme-park rendition of old-time New England than a battleground. There's a general store behind an awning, a small pharmacy beneath a neon sign, and a generations-old lumberyard down the way.

But these family businesses are not tourist-tailored relics in mid-coast Maine. They're rallying symbols for a passionate movement that is fighting to preserve the community fabric and the state's traditional ambience, and keep Wal-Mart out of one of New England's most distinctive regions.

It is an escalating fight that has scored recent victories for big-box foes in three towns between Bath and Rockland, and activists are battling to add five more communities to their goal of a ''box-free" coastal zone. Damariscotta, Newcastle, and Nobleboro have voted since March to ban or place a moratorium on new retail stores greater than 35,000 square feet. Thomaston, Edgecomb, and Waldoboro have votes scheduled on size caps within the next several weeks. Opposition to big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart, whose supercenters typically are 186,000 square feet -- and sell everything from food to clothes to tools to prescription drugs -- also is stirring in Warren and Wiscasset.

''The very thing I loved about this place was being threatened," said Jenny Mayher, a Harvard-educated, stay-at-home mother who moved to Maine within the last several years and helped organize a grass-roots drive to preempt Wal-Mart's plans to build in the picturesque village of Damariscotta. ''It would have forced local businesses to either close or scale back."
read more: On Maine Coast, Some Try to Keep Wal-Mart at Bay


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