St. Albans Wal-Mart opens after decades of debate - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

St. Albans Wal-Mart opens after decades of debate

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ST. ALBANS TOWN, Vt. -

They've been waiting 20 years.

"We were really excited to have something like this in St. Albans," said Beverly Dupuis of Swanton.

So another few hours in the early morning was a breeze for Beverly Dupuis and Elaine Larocque.

"It was 58 degrees and it wasn't bad out and I thought, I'm going to go for it. I've never done anything like this," Larocque said.

Especially for a Wal-Mart grand opening that many thought would never come.

"We needed this for a long time," said Laura L'Esperance of St. Albans.

First in line was Laura L'Esperance with a sign that read: We got a Wal-Mart.

"I waited 25 years," she said. "And I didn't think I was going to make it until we got it, but I did; here I am."

L'Esperance was so excited, she got there at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

"I was the very first one," she said. "And then everybody started following."

By everybody, she means all the people in line for the opening of a Wal-Mart two decades in the making. The St. Albans Wal-Mart saga started in the 1990s, bogged down in debates and appeals. Then, like now, some worried about the future of the downtown.

"If you buy from your down-the-street person that lives in Franklin County you will help our tax bracket," Wal-Mart project opponent Winnie Wilkinson said in October 2012.

Those worries remain, but Wal-Mart is now reality and leaders argue the keystone of Franklin County's future.

"We look at this from a regional perspective and we think this is a really great time for the greater St. Albans area," St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache said.

They cut the ribbon, opened the doors, and for the first time in a long time, shoppers say they don't have to drive to Williston. Locals are excited they no longer have to south to do their shopping, but the writing on the wall makes it clear in multiple languages Wal-Mart has its eyes on our neighbors to the north. The Wal-Mart sign has its slogan, "Save money, live better," translated into French.

"It's going to encourage our (neighbors to the north) to come down here and spend some of their (money)," former Vt. Gov. Jim Douglas said.

And Wal-Mart thinks that will spread to the rest of retail in Franklin County, including the St. Albans downtown. So do state leaders.

"Anyone that says that Wal-Mart and downtowns can't thrive together I think is dead wrong," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

Whether that happens may be the next 20-year debate.

Wal-Mart says when it's done hiring in St. Albans it will have created more than 200 new jobs. And they expect even more openings through the holiday season.

The St. Albans store is now Vermont's largest Wal-Mart, with nearly 150,000 square feet.

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