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Squamish Wal-Mart expected to be approved next week



Squamish council is expected to announce next week that they have approved a proposal from U.S. supermarket giant Wal-Mart.

This announcement will pave the way for Wal-Mart to build a 70,000 square-foot shopping complex in Squamish.

Further details concerning the specifics of the actual supermarket are expected from Wal-Mart executives within the next two weeks.

Wal-Mart and the Squamish council have been negotiating this development for more than a year.

Wal-Mart’s public relations department was not prepared to disclose how and when the store would be built except to say that, "it was an ongoing process, which would happen in several stages".

But several businesspeople that will be involved with supermarket have confirmed the store should be opened by January 2005.

The effect Wal-Mart will have on shoppers in Squamish, and indeed Whistler, could be enormous and as such there are many people who are strongly opposed to the development.

Grocers, hardware shops and house wares suppliers are expected to be hardest hit by Wal-Mart’s presence.

President of the Federation of Independent Grocers John Scott was confident that most businesses would withstand the challenge Wal-Mart is going to present and the result will be extremely good for consumers.

"The real benefit to all this will be for the consumers with all this competition in town," Scott said.

But Scott did warn that although Wal-Mart offered a large range of products they were historically not markedly cheaper than other local stores.

"Pricing in Canada is so competitive already that there just isn’t much to be had by dropping your prices," he said.

"In the U.S. you can really drop prices with different cost structures but most people in the grocery industry in Canada have already had to do that.

"American companies come to Canada all the time to take the profits south but Canadian companies are used to this and they know how to compete so I wouldn’t expect anyone (businesses) to fall down."

Wal-Mart started in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962 and the chain now serves 140 million customers every week in 10 countries, including Puerto Rico, Brazil and Argentina.

Wal-Mart came to Canada in 1994 after it took over 122 Wilco stores. It has expanded rapidly since then and as at the end of January there are 231 Wal-Mart stores in Canada.

Wal-Mart’s head of corporate affairs, Andrew Pelletier, said Wal-Mart would be investing around $20 million in the Squamish project.

Despite this investment Pelletier said Wal-Mart was aware that there had been a lot of vocal opposition in Squamish.

"But the referendum we had there on Wal-Mart was overwhelmingly in support of having a store," Pelletier said.

"I know there has been some vocal opposition but we do an enormous amount of research before we make proposals.

"We believe we’ll stop a lot consumer traffic from Squamish travelling down to North Van where there are a lot of Wal-Mart type stores."

Pelletier said residents should not be concerned with the size of the development because Wal-Mart intends to mould the store to fit the community.

"The typical Wal-Mart store is around 130,000 square feet so this is not a large Wal-Mart; it’s being tailored to fit the community.

"It typically takes six months (to build a Wal-Mart) when construction is ready to start."

Anna from Anna’s Attic in Squamish was in favour of Wal-Mart but she was concerned that Squamish council would now forget about fixing the downtown area. Squamish recently acquired prime waterfront real estate near downtown and is planning mixed use development on the site.

"It’s becoming dead in the water down here (downtown) but I know there are plans to make this a destination zone," she said.

"I’d like to see it (Wal-Mart) but not for a few years, not until after we’ve fixed the downtown area."

Squamish resident Joan Forry was so keen to see Wal-Mart come to her town that she contacted Wal-Mart’s national office to encourage them to move in as quickly as possible.

"I wanted it here last Christmas because we need something like this is the corridor," Forry said.

Forry, who is a grandmother in her 60s, said it would mean Squamish residents wouldn’t have to drive to Vancouver to find better deals.

"We do have a lot in this town but it’s for things like birthdays and Christmas where it would nice to have a better selection," she said.

"We had a referendum on Wal-Mart and around 70 per cent were in favour… I think it would be good to have it here for the variety as much as anything.

"There are a lot of people against it because they say it’ll kill downtown, but the downtown hasn’t been a viable for quite some time."

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