Evolving Peace

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Downtown Vermont

Most of the settled land in America is littered with strip malls and big box stores and while that seems to be the trend, Vermont has led the way in demonstrating that there is an alternative. Just recently, Vermont was honored as a finalist for the World Tourism and Travel Council Award. While Vermont has its natural landscape and exponential outdoor activities; however it was chosen for its commitment to vibrant downtowns. The vibrancy of our scenic and prosperous downtowns is a treasure in itself.

I for one moved here from New Jersey, in what I called the concrete jungle. Whole tracts of land subdivided into retail chain stores. Best Buy, Nissan, Applebee’s and Dunkin Donuts are everywhere and long forgotten are the personalities who long ago made that a place to be. As a child I heard numerous stories of the bakery my great-grandparents owned, I speckled through the real estate books from my grandfathers real estate business and sampled candy from the Sheers’ family run store. Business of the day were owned right there and from within the community, not so is the trend today. Everything has been transformed into a franchise, from the local grocery to the barber shop.

Vermont has been honored for this distinction and I hope for the continued success of our downtowns but looming in the forefront are the forces of “progress,” just waiting to tap into the market. Policies are legislated with the interests of business and anything that goes contrary to those interests is deemed bad for business.

The recent debate over the proposed tax on Vermont Yankee/Entergy is a classic case of that logic. An out of state corporation is making millions off the backs of Vermonters and an attempt to tax them adequately has stirred up cries of foul play. They claim that the tax is bad for business, but lost in that shuffle is people. The State of Vermont consists of approximately six hundred thirty thousand people and I question what is bad for them. Is taxing a corporation who profits enormously from the labor of Vermonters bad? While Vermont Yankee exports its profits to their stockholders and rewards the CEO with a lavish seven million dollar salary, Vermonters are squeezed in the quest for finding affordable and environmental stable energy. Although, Vermont Yankee is armed with a whole slew of high priced lobbyists the matter passed the legislature but they were able to shed enough doubt that looks as if the governor will veto.

On another frontal attack to Vermont’s downtowns is the rise and demand for the big box stores. Wal-Mart just announced the other day that their growth last year was only eight percent and that is poor numbers for them. The success of business is measured by growth and whether or not they have a positive impact on society is irrelevant to their standards. So wake up America, Wal-Mart wants to sprawl into your town, next.

Yes, there is a need to create jobs and provide consumers with products but how much of that is needed through a box store. Economic studies have proven that the development of large box stores pull people away from the downtowns, thus leaving downtowns as vacant deserts lacking community. Withstanding that, pro-business policies are created to lure development and attract corporations. Tax breaks are given under the guise of creating jobs; however shortly afterwards the land is developed and the fabric of community is destroyed.

The only way to maintain the vibrant downtowns is to keep a fair and even playing field for the small family owned business. As a consumer we must ask ourselves where our purchase dollars go, is it to my neighbor around the corner or is it to investment firm on Wall Street. I am Pro-People and I support my local economy not the faceless corporations that look at me as a market for their commodity. Vermont still has the charm of the vibrant downtown communities and I plan to keep it that way.

Robb Kidd

“Drive thy business, let not that drive thee.” Benjamin Franklin


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