Higher Standards for Big Box Campaign

Higher Standards for Big Box Campaign


December 2005


In the summer of 2005, VNRC joined forces with the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign and the Vermont Workers’ Center in a partnership aimed at holding Wal-Mart and other big boxes accountable to the people and places where they locate. The “Higher Standards for Big Box Campaign” is a focused effort to merge the social justice, labor and environmental interests of each organization. By building a broad-base movement representing businesses, workers, environmentalists, legislators and Vermonters seeking access to affordable goods, we believe we can welcome large-scale retail development in Vermont in a way that doesn’t harm the people or communities where they do business.
The Story of Wal-Mart in Vermont

Many Vermonters understand the high costs the giant retailer often has on local businesses, downtowns and rural character, citizens have been fairly successful at forcing Wal-Mart to come into the state on our terms. When Wal-Mart built smaller stores in downtown or already-developed locations in Berlin, Bennington and Rutland, there was little objection. Yet, when Wal-Mart sought to develop a 100,000 square foot store in a cornfield two miles outside the city of St. Albans over a decade ago, VNRC, Preservation Trust of Vermont, and citizens fought the giant retailer all the way to the Supreme Court and won. The court found that the proposed store would harm communities, local business and the economy.
Now, however, Wal-Mart is back. And they are bold. Their proposals are not ‘Vermont scale.’ Wal-Mart proposes to build a 160,000 square foot store in the same St. Albans cornfield and more than double the size of the current store in Bennington. The most recent Wal-Mart proposal is for a 150,000 square foot store in the rural, remote Northeast Kingdom town of Derby. Wal-Mart has also expressed interest in locating stores in Morrisville, Middlebury, St. Johnsbury, and Rutland.
Wal-Mart’s increasingly brazen, one-size-fits-all development model costs communities and people where they do business significantly.
Some facts about Wal-Mart in Vermont:

  • A 1994 independent economic study showed that Wal-Mart in St. Albans would result in a net loss of 167 jobs in Franklin County.
  • $1.00 of public revenue generated by Wal-Mart costs taxpayers $2.50.
  • In the mid-1990s and again in 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the whole state of Vermont as endangered specifically because Wal-Mart’s plans for expansion threaten the state’s downtowns, rural character and quality of life.
  • The average wage for Wal-Mart’s most common jobs — sales associates and cashiers — is $7.92 to $8.23 an hour. The Vermont livable wage is $12.37 an hour.
  • Of the 421 Vermont big box retail workers who accessed Medicaid last year, 286 worked at Wal-Mart (68 percent).
  • After the development of big boxes in Williston, the town had to increase its sales tax by 1 percent to support the additional costs the boxes generated (such as police, fire, roads, etc).
  • A Wal-Mart store in St. Albans would need to attract business from 75 percent of the patrons that now support local businesses.

The ‘Higher Standards for Big Box Campaign’ aims to avoid the damaging consequences Wal-Mart’s practices can have on the towns and people where they locate by promoting a better way of doing business in Vermont. Some alternatives which would provide Vermonters the much-needed access to affordable goods without sacrificing so much include:


  • Square footage size caps — Limiting the size of stores allows for new development but also allows other smaller, family owned businesses to compete with large-scale retailers. A proposal to set a retail cap was introduced in 2005 to the Vermont Legislature and will be taken up again in 2006.
  • Downtown locations — Directing development to places where infrastructure already exists — water, sewer, roads, emergency services etc. — will help strengthen Vermont’s historic downtowns, curb sprawl, and save taxpayer dollars.
  • Community owned retail stores — A viable alternative to Big Box chain stores, ‘Mercantiles,’ are finding success in communities across the nation. These community designed, supported and managed retail stores provide shoppers access to quality products at discounted prices.
  • Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) — Many labor coalitions across the country are using CBA’s to ensure that development projects really benefit local residents. CBAs are legally binding documents that become part of the city’s agreement with the developer. The agreement contains numerous provisions stipulating exactly how the development will benefit the community.

How Can You Help Us Hold Wal-Mart Accountable?

  • Join this growing collaborative as a member of one of our organizations or as an activist.
  • Help us spread the word by writing letters to the editor about alternatives to oversized, out-of-place development.
  • Join the “Higher Standards” campaign. Contact VNRC to find out how.
  • Contact your Vermont legislators and urge them to support a statewide cap on new retail development.
  • Join or start a citizens group in any of the communities where Wal-Mart might build.
  • Host a Wal-Mart 101 workshop (contact VLWC).
  • Shop locally!

For more information, contact:


Johanna Miller, Outreach Director

Vermont Natural Resources Council

9 Bailey Avenue

Montpelier, VT 05602




Emma Mulvaney-Stanak

Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, Peace & Justice Center

21 Church Street, Burlington, VT 05401

802-863-2345 x8 * livablewage@pjcvt.org


<>Heather Pipino

Vermont Workers’ Center

P.O. Box 883

Montpelier, VT 05601

802-229-0009 * info@workerscenter.org