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Wal-Mart battling Calexico big box ordinance

February 06, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — National and local Wal-Mart officials plan to turn out in force at a City Council meeting here tonight to oppose a "big box" ordinance designed to protect local businesses from enormous discount stores.

The ordinance, approved in concept by the council at a Jan. 17 meeting, is on the agenda for the approval of the ordinance's first reading.

Calexico Wal-Mart store manager Phil Aubrey said Monday he, an official from the Wal-Mart corporate office in Bentonville, Ark., as well as more than 100 store employees will cram City Hall tonight to oppose the approval of the ordinance.

Armed with 3,500 signatures of Calexico residents in favor of a local Wal-Mart expansion, Aubrey said the final approval of the ordinance would close the door on any move.

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"Right now we don't have any plans to expand, but some day we possibly may," Aubrey said. "We want to leave that open as an option some day. We don't want that taken away from us."

After much controversy between a developer looking to bring in a large-scale Target store to Calexico and a group of 17 independent grocers bent on protecting local merchants from super-sized national discount chains, the City Council approved 5-0 a big box ordinance limiting the sales-floor space a minimum-150,000 square-foot store could devote to non-taxable goods to 7.5 percent or less.

Despite numerous news stories previewing the meeting at which the big box ordinance was passed, Aubrey contends Wal-Mart officials were never given the opportunity to voice the company's concern.

"As of yet, we haven't had a voice in this," Aubrey said. "I want to pretty much to tell (the council) to please leave open the possibility of expansion.

"The majority of our customers would like us to be able to expand some day," he added.

In preparation for tonight's meeting, Aubrey said Wal-Mart employees, or "associates," have walked the streets of Calexico collecting signatures of residents supporting a possible Wal-Mart expansion or even the construction of a Super Wal-Mart.

"We feel there's enough business for everybody. They're going to allow a Target and a Food 4 Less," Aubrey said. "The area's growing so much, we think there's going to be room for everybody."

Calexico's independent grocers, the group that introduced the concept of a big box ordinance to the city several months ago, are taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding Wal-Mart's intentions.

Yoli Cordero of Garcia Foods said, "I don't know what Wal-Mart wants. We're trying to preserve our community. … We have to wait and see what Wal-Mart does."

Super Shopping-Apple Market General Manager Joe Moreno said the independent grocers stand behind the big box ordinance "150 percent."

He added, "It's typical of Wal-Mart invading a community. Who's the guest here?"

Said Cordero: "I know (the local merchants) are here to do business and share business with the community and if (Wal-Mart) wants to come in and walk all over everybody, I don't think that's all right.

"I've been here for years, and I'm here to defend my business and my community," she said.

The City Council will meet at 6:30 tonight in City Hall, 608 Heber Ave.

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro can be reached at 337-3453.

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