Wal-Mart reaction mixed

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LEWISTON – For Lorraine Roberge, Wal-Mart’s proposed Exit 80 supercenter looks like opportunity.

“If it brings more people to the area, that can’t hurt,” said Roberge, owner of Provencher’s Landscaping and Nursery at 299 River Road. “It should bring other businesses with it, and restaurants. And if we get restaurants, we don’t need to go across the river to Auburn any more.”

Plans for the 191,000-square-foot store, the second Super Wal-Mart in the Twin Cities, should go before the Planning Board in February. Developers hope to break ground this year.

It’s not the first time Roberge has faced a huge Wal-Mart development in her neighborhood. Her nursery and gift shop sit in the shadow of the Wal-Mart Distribution Center just north of her store. Original plans for that building would have moved Plourde Parkway’s intersection across from her store.

Roberge and other neighbors worked with the city to get the road moved.

“But one thing I’ve learned in all of this is development is pretty much inevitable,” she said. The best she can do is make sure her shop is different enough from Wal-Mart to compete.

“We do the things they don’t,” she said. “I think people will still want to come here, as long as we do something Wal-Mart can’t. And more people in the area means more business.”

Husband Roger said he’ll wait and see, but remains skeptical. He would have preferred Lewiston’s Exit 80 be home to some other retailer.

“It’s fine, but don’t we have enough Wal-Mart’s already?” he said. “I’m not sure I understand why we need two in this community.”

Crowding

Cutting down on traffic is one reason, according to Veronica Morse of Lewiston. She was among shoppers at the Auburn supercenter Thursday.

“I always go to this store, because I work just down the road,” she said. “But I don’t come very often because there are always so many people.”

Lewiston’s Janet Bineau is thrilled with the news.

“I saw it in my paper this morning, and I went ‘Yes!'” she said. She lives close to Lewiston’s turnpike interchange and plans on regular visits to the store when it opens.

“This is the first time I’ve been out to Wal-Mart since Christmas,” she said. “I’d like to come every day, if I could, just to walk around and look at the shelves.”

Jennifer Kelly of Turner said she avoids the store on the weekends because of the crowds. She shops at Wal-Mart regularly every two weeks, but doesn’t think a new store is necessary.

“I really don’t see the need,” she said. “There’s already one here.”

Auburn’s Linda Berube had a more dismal view.

“Lewiston and Auburn, we’re still a pretty small community,” she said. “I don’t think we can support all of this.”

She’s afraid that the recent retail development is a bubble poised to burst.

“Look at all of those nice restaurants there,” she said, pointing to the recently built Longhorn Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesdays and TGI Fridays. “They’re all great and I’m glad to have them. But I’m afraid they’re all going to be empty in a year. I don’t think we can support all of this.”

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