Hood River seems to be under assault on many fronts these days. It feels as though this community is in everyone's crosshairs. Of all the threats to our town from outside forces, by far the one with most potential to destroy the every essence of Hood River is the giant Wal-Mart proposed for the west side.
Despite what Wal-Mart advocates claim their track record is clear and well-documented. Devastation of small towns and the small businesses that are the life-blood. Drive through the Heights, drive through downtown, drive down West Cascade. Picture which businesses would be the next to go. Empty store fronts will be the inevitable result. Why should we care? We should care because these small business owners are our friends and neighbors. We should care because they bank in our banks and reinvest in our community. They coach our kids and have a personal interest in this town.
In contrast, Wal-Mart cycles nothing back into the community. The few crumbs they claim to give to local causes is far less, as a percentage of gross, than most locally owned businesses contribute, and Wal-Mart's negative economic impact far out-weighs anything charitable they do. By forcing smaller competitors out, jobs just shift from locally owned to Wal-Mart.
In every Northwest town where a super store Wal-Mart has located the local Rosauers has folded. Forty-five miles west of here (Wood Village exit) there is a huge new Wal-Mart. That store is 142,000 square feet. The current store is 50,000. The proposed super store will be 185,000 square feet, grossly out of scale for this community.
The inevitable result of this monstrosity would be a full-on commercial strip similar to Troutdale or The Dalles as national franchises crowd in trying to take advantage of the massive amounts of traffic this Wal-Mart will create. A strip mall from Frankton Road to Rand Road. That to me is totally unacceptable. Wal-Mart's P.R. people and lawyers are great at putting a positive spin on their corporation; that's what they get paid to do. It's their job. In contrast, we have local citizens taking valuable time away from family and jobs to fight for the town they love. Doing what our elected officials should be doing.
So the questions are: why is this happening and can it be stopped? Obviously money is the answer to the first question, coupled with greedy realtors, tenative county planners and an uninformed public this has become a crisis situation, a defining moment in the future of this town.
Can this be stopped? Yes, it can. The county planners need to adopt city planning's "Big Box" ordinance limiting the size of new retail structures to 50,000 square feet or the city needs to annex the land in question. This needs to be done immediately. Our planners need to act decisively and responsibly to present a united front. County planning will respond to public opinion. Call them, write them, go to meetings, raise hell. To those who try and label the "Big Box" ordinance anti-growth, I say to them that is a hollow argument and it is labeled as such mostly by those who have some financial stake in the matter. It's not anti-growth, It's pro-small town, it's pro-Hood River.
I feel that everything we and our visitors hold dear about this town is at stake. It's time to draw a line in the sand. It's time to say enough is enough.