With emotions running high in Pagosa Springs over the decision to locate a Wal-Mart in town, local residents have created an organized opposition in hopes of staving off what they perceive as a development that could be damaging to the area.
Calling themselves Pagosa First, core members began talking immediately following a Jan. 3 meeting of the Pagosa Springs Town Council at which Wal-Mart representative Josh Phair announced his company’s plans to locate a store in town.
At that meeting, Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon disallowed public comment regarding the announcement — a move that apparently partly motivated several area residents to organize in opposition to a Wal-Mart in town.
“I was so mad at the town council,” said Lvonne Wilson, one of the Pagosa First organizers. “There were no questions asked of this guy (Phair). They never even asked any questions regarding the negative impacts of this company.
“How can this council be so pro when there are so many negatives on it?” Wilson asked.
Directly following Phair’s presentation, Wilson talked with local business owner Juanalee Park and soon the idea of an organized opposition was formed. With both approached by numerous area residents and business owners who were likewise upset over council’s apparent lack of due diligence regarding the issue, the group began to form.
“It was more a group that just got together,” Park said. “We just sat down and decided that something needed to be done.”
Within two weeks, the group grew enough to form a steering committee that would formulate strategy and direct the formation of a broad-based coalition of local residents and business owners.
Park added that the group’s website at www.pagosafirst.com had been designed by local resident Jen Tuggle and added that the site will be a resource for local residents wishing to fight a Wal-Mart locating in town.
When asked about why she chose to become involved, Tuggle said, “I’m a single mom having to struggle like so many others in this town, but Wal-Mart is not my answer.
“Sure, I could definitely benefit by lower prices,” Tuggle added, ”but what matters more to me is the quality of life I want for myself.”
Saying she’d traveled through many small towns with a Wal-Mart and seen what the store had done to those towns, Tuggle said, “I don’t want to see our town so degraded.”
In fact, all three said they were not only motivated by the potential impact Wal-Mart would have on the community but also the way that the corporation does business, how it treats its employees and its vendors.
“I’ve never believed in their practices,” Wilson said.
Apparently ready to hit the big time, Pagosa First has planned an event they will hope will educate local residents and motivate them to action.
Tonight at 7 p.m., the group is showing the documentary, “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” free of charge at the Liberty Theater.
“I want people to understand what we’re up against,” Wilson said, adding that she booked the theater immediately after getting permission to show the movie. “I want people to come who aren’t necessarily anti-Wal-Mart. I want people who are pro-Wal-Mart to see what’s going on.”
Although opponents of Wal-Mart have been noticeably visible and vociferous, it is not to say that supporters of a Wal-Mart do not exist in the area.
“We have a great opportunity here to have additional jobs and growth for our community that can help so many,” said Bill Reeve. “I, for one, encourage and applaud efforts to bring Wal-Mart to Pagosa.”
“We need the revenue in our town,” said Darlene Peterson. “In other communities where Wal-Mart is, they have money to fix their roads, put in bike paths, all kinds of things. I want to see growth in our town and people to have jobs.
“Even if they’re minimum wage jobs, they’re jobs,” Peterson added.
“It is about time that Pagosa realizes the jobs potential and tax base that we can create by embracing the growth and allowing Wal-Mart to become an intricate part of this community,” said Shelley Low. “It is time for Pagosa to grow instead of the no growth attitude that we have seen for so many years. This is actually an opportunity, and I for one am for it.”
While it doesn’t appear that local supporters of Wal-Mart have organized in the way that opponents have done, it begs the question if a support organization is even necessary. After all, Wal-Mart has been doing what it does for several decades while Pagosa First has only been pursuing opposition for several weeks. Likewise, aside from those years of experience dealing with communities (and community-based opposition), Wal-Mart has access to billions of dollars and teams of attorneys working to ensure that the corporation gets its way.
While some communities have successfully prevented Wal-Mart from setting up shop, the odds are steeply stacked against local opponents. Knowing an uphill battle exists, Park said that their strategy is not just about opposing something but standing for something.
“We need to stay focused on the positive,” Park said. “What the vision is for this town, our character and integrity.”
“It’s personal to me,” Wilson said. “This is my home town.”
“It’s not just about sales tax. It’s not just about that at all.”