It's been talked about for years and now plans for a Walmart are moving forward in the Northeast Kingdom.
Gisele Seymour is credited with bringing the nation's largest retailer to Derby. "Now they say if you want something, you got to go after it. And what women want, God wants," Seymour said.
She lead a petition drive asking the town to lure Walmart to the area after Ames closed in 2002, leaving the region without a big box retailer. And two years ago on Town Meeting Day, 85-percent of voters in Derby and Newport asked planners to support bringing Walmart to town.
"The Village of Newport and the people of Derby voted overwhelmingly to support having a place to buy underwear so we don't have to go to Littleton," said Sen. Robert Starr (D-Essex/Orleans)
Walmart previously eyed Derby in 2005, but tabled the plan when the recession hit. Now with the economy turning around, the retail giant wants to build its first Supercenter in the state on a plot of land off Route 5. At 150,000 square feet, it would be about 30-percent larger than the store in Williston. It would provide 300 full and part time jobs. The company announced Tuesday a nationwide pledge to hire more veterans honorably discharged from the military -- some 100,000 over the next five years.
A Supercenter includes a grocery section -- what else it will offer will be determined as the project goes through the local and state permitting process. "Other departments -- it may have to literally depend on the community," said Walmart's Alexandra Serra.
But putting a shovel in the ground may not be easy. A similar project in St. Albans took 20 years to get through the permitting process due to environmental challenges. The group that led that opposition, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, is also opposed to this project. "It's really going to promote more of the sprawl development and we are very concerned about the economic vitality of our downtowns," said VNRC's Kate McCarthy.
Developers said building the store downtown was considered, but was too expensive and not feasible for many reasons. Newport Mayor Paul Monette said even being located on the outskirts of the city will have a positive economic impact, especially with a $600 million revitalization planned for the downtown. "It will keep people shopping local and it will attract people downtown," he said.
VNRC said it is still exploring potential legal action to block the project. "They could delay that for a significant period of time -- we knew going in -- Walmart knows going in," said Jeff Davis, the project's developer.
While Gisele Seymour is happy her dream is one step closer to becoming a reality, she hopes she will be there when the doors open. "I hope it happens before I croak -- I'm 94," she added.
If the permitting process goes smoothly, construction could begin early next year. It would take about 9 to 10 months to construct.
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