Wal-Mart foe Norman visits HR this week

Al Norman, a nationally recognized defender of locally-owned business, will debate a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Corporation and lead Hood River residents in wrapping “Arms Around Our Town” during a two-day visit Thursday and Friday.

Norman’s visit is sponsored by the Hood River Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG), which formed in 2001 to foster community dialogue and family-wage job growth in Hood River County. The group opposes Wal-Mart’s proposed relocation of its existing Hood River store and expansion from 72,000 square feet to a Supercenter of about 185,000 square feet.

“This does nothing to create family-wage jobs, ties up a huge chunk of rare commercial land, furthers no goal of the county’s economic development plan, and threatens to drain more money from a county that the state considers economically distressed,” said Kate Huseby, co-chair of CRG.

County officials are reviewing details of the proposal for a 16-acre parcel just west of the Hood River city limits. A Planning Department recommendation and public hearings will follow the June 14 deadline for Wal-Mart representatives to submit detailed plans.

The highlight of Norman’s visit will be a public demonstration of support for local merchants in which several hundred residents wrap their “Arms Around Our Town.”

“When we link arms downtown, we will be showing just how large the proposed Wal-Mart expansion is, and just how many local businesses are threatened by the unfair competitive advantage of big-box stores,” said event organizer Maureen Milton.

Residents interested in publicly sharing their affection for Hood River will meet at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the city parking lot between Cascade and Columbia streets and between Fifth and Seventh streets. Norman and event organizers at 4 p.m. will lead residents around several downtown city blocks roughly equaling the footprint of the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter. The event will conclude with a celebration on Oak Street.

Since leading the defeat in 1993 of a Wal-Mart store near his home in Greenfield, Mass., Norman has traveled the country teaching other communities how to defend local merchants by resisting one-stop big-box stores.

Norman, the author of “Slam Dunking Wal-Mart: How You Can Stop Superstore Sprawl in Your Hometown” (1999), has appeared on “60 Minutes,” been featured in the PBS documentary “Store Wars,” and been featured in publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, and Time.

During his visit, Norman will debate Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Hill before the Hood River Rotary Club at noon Thursday (open only to members); speak and answer questions during a public appearance from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Westside Elementary School gymnasium; and meet with local business people to discuss issues — pro and con — of the Wal-Mart proposal at Charburger, 4100 Westcliff Drive, at 8 a.m. Friday.

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