"[Community stores] are locally owned by community members in contrast to the distant, corporate shareholders of national retailers...Everyone in the community is given the opportunity to invest in the store by buying shares. Community owned stores support local economies by keeping locally generated dollars recycling in the community, creating a benefit for the store, the shopper and the local community...
...Local consumer spending. Stronger local business. More jobs and income. A vibrant downtown economy."
-From The Saranac Lake Community Store homepage
The struggles against the Big-Boxes, especially the despised goliath-- Walmart- seem to have the same trajectories across the nation: a Big Box, often through sneaky means, acquires land and tries to get it rezoned for its needs. In some places, the store is built before anyone knows what happened. In other places, the local community hears about it and, sometimes, debate is begun. Hearings are had and questions are raised. In general, the middle-class (especially liberals) and old-guard preservationist types are up in arms against the encroacher while poorer folk and those who pursue growth-at-any-cost are supportive. However, in general, anti-Big Box campaigns tend to be just that: anti. No development, no change, no thought of the genuine needs of the poor who need jobs and access to affordable goods.
Saranac Lake, near Lake Placid in the Adirondacks, is one of those true battlegrounds. The recent closing of the Ames store has created a retail "hole" in the area and there is a genuine need for affordable clothes and similar items; Wal-Mart has acquired land and sought for re-zoning. However, there is a strong local historic preservationist and conservationist culture that has risen up against the arrival of the Big Box. Organizations like the Sound Adirondack Growth Alliance (SAGA) and the Save Saranac Lake Coalition have grown up around this debate (SAGA is more moderate than Save Saranac) in the way that similar organizations appear where ever Wal-Mart arrives. However, in Saranac there is a new wrinkle in the fabric of debate that shows great promise for responding to the fears of the anti-Wal Mart lobby and the practical needs of the pro-Wal Mart crowd. This new idea is the Saranac Lake Community Store.
Originally an out-growth of Save Saranac, this independent organization seeks to create a community-owned department store in the heart of Saranac Lake. Ownership shares are available for community members to invest in the project and to have a voting stake in its outcome. The store would then be responsive to the needs of locals and keep money circulating within the community. By keeping the store in Downtown Saranac, it is a force combatting sprawl and keeping Saranac from being completely touristified (is that a word?). The organization has stated a vested interest in creating good-paying jobs with benefits and being governed democratically.
Based off of a model already in place in Powell, WY, a community organization has hired a business consultant to put together a plan of action and has held successful public interest meetings.
I have always been an advocate for community economic action as the best plan for rebuilding our Upstate Communities (check out my older posts on The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, the Ithaca Hour local currency and the Battenkill Cooperative Kitchen). To quote the folks from a CBS story about Powell: "Don't expect corporate America to take care of you... Don't expect the government to take care of you. …People know that, if they want to get something done, you do it yourself. And you have better solutions that way. …That's the thing with leaving your ego at the door." It's high time we learned something from those folks in Wyoming and take matters into our own hands; I salute the work of the Saranac Lake Community Store and wish them the best in all their endeavors.
PS: The Saranac Store needs your help:
"At present we need help from people that have some expertise in certain areas: law, buying, retail management, etc. When we are ready to sell shares, that is when we will need financial help to get things rolling and a team of volunteers to help with that. If you have further questions, please check the "Frequently Asked Questions" section, or call 518-891-7230."