Editorial: The importance of local control of commerce

Posted Wednesday, May 25, 2011 in Opinion

THOMASTON -- Walmart wanted a supercenter in this little coastal Knox County town. Thomaston knew it would be detrimental to its local small businesses.  So the town used the four year old Informed Growth Act to determine, as part of the planning process, what the economic impact would be.

On May 4, the Maine House voted to repeal the Informed Growth Act.  The repeal doesn't prohibit it outright, rather, it pits town against town by making towns vote to use it.

The Senate is yet to take up the matter.

Towns have a right to know what the impact of a large, out of state retailer will have on small, traditional downtowns.  A couple of years ago, Brunswick lost Grand City, a small downtown department store that could not compete with Walmart at Cooks Corner, about a mile and a half away.  When Grand City went, it left a gaping hole in Brunswick's downtown.  Grand City was more than a department store; it was an anchor for the community, and a community meeting center.  Since its closure, many, many small businesses have found that they, too, cannot compete - not enough people are shopping downtown without Grand City's presence.

These impacts are serious, and have a major effect on the local community, especially pedestrians, who are likely to be teenagers and the elderly, often without reliable transportation to the big box stores.  They also have major effects on boutique businesses, who cannot thrive without larger shops to draw bigger crowds.

Since Grand City shut its doors, Brunswick has lost its toy store, a sports store that moved to a mall, a vintage clothing store, and several other establishments.

It does not gravely injure a big box store to jump through one more hoop to make sure that it is not going to significantly harm the town it proposes to settle in.  But it may gravely injure the towns not to know the economic price they will pay for a few low-wage jobs on the outskirts of town.

The Informed Growth Act is not an impediment to business.  It is an aid to small businesses in every community in Maine.  Keep it.

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