Store foes: Downtown would suffer

STANWOOD – Kristine Kaufman and Chris Satterlund have gathered more than 3,000 signatures on petitions opposing Wal-Mart in Stanwood.

The co-owners of Snow Goose Bookstore in downtown Stanwood say they fear Wal-Mart will force many local merchants out of business.

A consultant for the city confirmed that as likely.

The Stanwood Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing about a proposed zoning change that could pave the way for a new Wal-Mart.

The commission will listen to public comment at the hearing, which begins at 7 p.m. April 11 at Cedarhome Elementary School, 27911 68th Ave. NW.

A large retailer such as Wal-Mart would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, but the consultant emphasized that net sales-tax revenue for the city would be much more modest.

That’s because most of the gains Wal-Mart would bring would come at the expense of other local businesses that could not compete. Subtracting those lost sales taxes, Wal-Mart’s net boost to the city would be $187,000 annually, according to the report.

Losing local businesses has other trickle effects. Local banks often get business from local merchants but not as often from corporate stores, opponents argue.

Such losses would undermine the city’s downtown revitalization efforts called Design Stanwood, opponents fear. At the same time Design Stanwood has been planning better signs, architecture and marketing to boost downtown, the city is courting corporate business that could gut the downtown business sector.

Even though Wal-Mart would add 200 jobs, Satterlund said wages would be low. Besides, she added, the consultant’s report found Stanwood’s job base and economy were relatively strong.

Rosanne Cohn, a Camano Island resident active with Design Stanwood, said the city needs to stay focused on helping small downtown businesses.

“One of my concerns is that the City Council is taking the cheap and easy way out,” she said.

Lawyers for the opponents wrote in a memo to the city that changing the zoning at that site runs counter to local and state anti-sprawl policies.

City planners recommended denying a similar rezone request at the same site in 2003. Downtown concerns were paramount.

“The impacts to downtown may be highly negative, resulting in an overall negative impact to the city in general,” according to the report.

Opponents are not taking the possible arrival of Wal-Mart lightly. Besides consulting lawyers, they have picketed at City Council meetings and along Highway 532. They’re even staging mock hearings to practice their public comments.

“This is way beyond David and Goliath. This is the largest corporation in the world,” Kaufman said.

Big box competition is nothing new for bookstores, she said. But Stanwood seemed a good spot to avoid it when they bought the store in 1998.

“We said smugly, ‘Well, the big box stores will never come here,’” Kaufman said.

Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or smorris@heraldnet.com.

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