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Sometimes, Wal-Mart switches sites for its stores--voluntarily, or not, observers say
Wal-Mart garnered goodwill working with opponents
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By CLINT SCHEMMER
Wal-Mart rarely walks away from a fight. But occasionally, the world's largest retailer can be persuaded to change a controversial policy or decision.
Both lessons are clear from other states' and communities' scraps with the $401 billion company over where it builds its stores. Participants in those fights say they apply in Virginia, where the Bentonville, Ark., retailer has spent the past year battling critics of its planned supercenter in the Wilderness battlefield area.
Many Fredericksburg-area residents recall how Wal-Mart dug in its heels over the retail center it planned at George Washington's boyhood home in southern Stafford County.
"To my knowledge, the Stafford Board of Supervisors never tried to discourage them from building at Ferry Farm," recalls former Fredericksburg mayor Bill Beck. "I think what tipped the balance was when Wal-Mart realized the story had become national news, and it wasn't looking good to people all across the nation. Finally, that sank in."
Wal-Mart wound up building its store at an alternative location about a mile east on State Route 3, and the Ferry Farm site was bought by what's now the George Washington Foundation, one of the nation's older preservation groups.
Beck said today's tempest over the Wilderness Wal-Mart proposed in Orange County could have a similar outcome, no matter how it looks at the moment.
Last week's move by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and House Speaker Bill Howell, who urged Orange and Wal-Mart to pick a site farther from the Wilderness battlefield, "has got to ratchet it up a bit," he said.
"Wal-Mart would have to be awfully big for their britches to go against that. So I'm hopeful that will be a turning point."
Anchoring a 220,000-square-foot retail center, Wal-Mart's 138,000-square-foot store would be built on a ridge a quarter- mile from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which adjoins the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20. At least four Route 3 landowners have offered alternative sites.
Yesterday, Wal-Mart's chief spokesman reiterated that no other commercially zoned tract in the area meets its criteria for location and access to Routes 3 and 20.