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Residents take public swings at Wal-Mart

POULSBO — Hundreds of North Kitsap residents, hoping to play the role of Jack, are frantically chopping away at the credibility beanstalk. Their hope? To kill the corporate giant Wal-Mart before it sets foot in Poulsbo.

Local organizers, who held an informational meeting April 23, gathered more than 100 citizens together Saturday morning for a protest march through the city. While the rally went as planned, supporters of the “Stop Wal-Mart in Poulsbo” campaign are the first to admit that their situation is far from being a fairy tale.

Even so, a “happy ending” would suit them just fine.

Organizers of the April 26 rally said they realize they are just beginning what could be a long battle against the proposed super store at the Olhava development but felt up to the challenge as well.

At its peak, marchers numbered 150 strong at an event that was organized at the group’s first-ever meeting just days before.

“There has been a great outpouring of concern,” explained rally organizer Carson Farley of the grassroots opposition to the big box store. “We’re just exercising our democratic freedom here.”

The underlying theme of the event was that even though Wal-Mart has its foot in the door here, it’s still not too late to slam it shut.

“It’s not a done deal,” remarked Kris Kennedy, noting that the rally was just a way residents would show their displeasure about the corporation’s bid to come to Poulsbo. “There are a lot of things coming down the pipe.”

Last week, a Wal-Mart spokesperson confirmed what many had suspected — an unnamed tenant in line to be the first retailer at Poulsbo’s Olhava development was in fact a Wal-Mart.

Since early January, the identity of the first retailer expected to sign on at the 216-acre development has been in question. Wal-Mart originally applied for a pre-application conference with the City of Poulsbo on Jan. 8 and then for a Type II site permit on March 11. However, until recently the name on all the official documents was First Western Investments, developers of the Olhava property. The company had asked First Western to keep its name anonymous for a time.

The proposed 19.8 acre development, now in administrative review in the city’s planning department, includes three phases of construction, beginning with a 150,000-square-foot space. The company plans to begin construction this summer for a mid- to late-2004 opening. The primary space will include commercial retail space, a quick lube and oil change station, outdoor retail space and about 747 parking stalls.

Future construction includes a gas service station (proposed March 2004) and an additional 68,600-square-feet of retail space and an extra 334 parking stalls (proposed between 2005 and 2010).

The first phase of construction will add 150 jobs to the area, while the second phase will add about 100 more.

Opposition to a Wal-Mart in Poulsbo drew about 200 people to last Wednesday’s meeting, with residents voicing various concerns about the store. Saturday’s gathering brought many of the same concerns to the forefront.

“I think it will hurt Poulsbo’s small businesses and its grocery stores. It’s not a friendly retailer to its workers and won’t create family-wage jobs,” commented Susan Lindsey of UFCW Local 381. “I’d just like to see the Olhava people do something to provide living-wage jobs.”

The UFCW has been involved with the opposition to Wal-Mart in Poulsbo because of the retailer’s alleged anti-union stances. Paul Festag, a representative with UFCW Local 381, said the union was doing all it could legally do for the group, but he felt there was plenty of other support for its mission as well.

“I am just one fraction of a big coalition,” said Festag. “There are business people here and regular citizens here as well.”

Carrying “Just Say No to Wal-Mart in Poulsbo” signs donated by Corey Sign and toting petitions to be signed in hand, protesters descended on downtown Poulsbo.

“Cars would pull along side to sign the petitions and they’d ask for signs,” Richard Koven recalled Monday. “And we weren’t just marching, we were shopping. The businesses, I think, appreciated that and they asked for signs to hang up.”

Koven added that the group filled 85 petition sheets with signatures during the course of the walk.

And though chopping down the proverbial bean stalk is going to take a lot of work ahead, rally participants felt bolstered after Saturday’s experience.

Fishline Director Tricia Sullivan said the public’s response showed her there were many more people who supported their cause than she originally thought.

“I was amazed at people’s responses to people walking. There were a lot of honks and thumbs up. I was just impressed that there was so much wide-spread support.” Sullivan

“Stop Wal-Mart in Poulsbo” group will next meet at 7 p.m. April 30 at the North Kitsap community auditorium. For more information, go to www.stopwalmartinpoulsbo.org.

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