Afew weeks ago, I visited my hometown in Connecticut as I
do several times a year to spend time
with siblings. Much has changed since
photo: daria bishop
I moved away in 1985 — dairy farms
and open fields have been replaced by
but by far the most
is the explosion of
big-box stores that
line a stretch of
Route 7 that runs
It was an area
of commerce even
decades ago — a
Caldor store, a
movie theater, a
pizza place and
a small grocery store were the anchors.
But back then, those businesses were
just down the road from an old inn
with a lovely pond, a tractor shop, a
baseball field and a large chicken farm.
All of those artifacts of an
earlier era are now gone. In their
place are miles of furniture outlets,
discount chains, home improvement
centers, clothing stores and grocery
superstores. They seem to multiply
in number and expand in size daily.
During my most recent visit, I noticed
that the already enormous Costco
had recently engulfed a neighboring
business and is now selling gas.
When I come back to Montpelier,
I revel in our small local restaurants,
downtown shops and old-style hardware
stores. Yet I’d be untruthful if I didn’t
say I envied certain aspects of life in
my old hometown. Errands that here
can take hours because of the distances
between stores can be accomplished in
mere minutes there; the choices are more
varied and the prices often cheaper.
In a state that prides itself on its
“brand” as much as Vermont does,
making such an admission can feel close
to heresy. Here, simple everyday choices
often seem weighted with expectation.
The conscientious Vermonter is supposed
to embrace local retailers, regardless
of price, and shun others, notably
national behemoths like Walmart.
But it turns out I’m not alone
in my conflicted feelings. In her
comprehensively reported profile,
“The Developer” (page 38), Kim Asch
raises questions that may make some
Vermonters uneasy, topics that make
us examine what we want Vermont
to be versus how we really live.
(For instance, it turns out that the
Williston Walmart is one of the best
performing Walmarts in the country.)
“Something in the last 10 years has
changed,” says Jeff Davis, the subject of
Asch’s profile. Davis, a native Vermonter,
is the mastermind behind the big-box
development in Williston and is in the
process of bringing two new Walmarts
to northern Vermont. “It may be partly
the down economy, it may be partly that
people are more used to and accepting
of Walmart,” says Davis, “but the
company literally has communities
courting them, asking for these stores.”
Don’t misunderstand me; I live here
precisely because it is not like so many
other places in the United States that
have become anonymous, cookie-cutter
suburbs. My career is focused on drawing
attention to our special quality of life.
I appreciate the personal attention
and better service I get in small stores.
If retail sprawl gains the upper hand,
eroding our downtowns and plowing
under every vestige of our agrarian
history, we will have lost our soul. But
it’s important to have discussions about
growth within a real context, and not
in some fantasy version of our lives.
Asch’s article is a good place to start.
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