By a 2-to-1 margin, residents of Peterborough, New Hampshire, voted to reject a plan to build a giant Stop & Shop superstore on the outskirts of town. Peterborough is a community of 6,000 people about an hour west of Manchester.
"We’re a small, closely knit town with strong affection for our local merchants," said Jane LaPointe, one of several residents who spoke out against the development and distributed information on the impacts of big box stores in the weeks leading up to the vote.
Stop & Shop, which operates 340 supermarkets in the northeast, is a subsidiary of the world’s third largest retail company, Royal Ahold. Stop & Shop recently unveiled its superstore format. These 65,000- to 75,000-square-foot stores sell much more than groceries. They offer aisles of toys, office supplies, linens, books, and movie rentals, as well as a pharmacy, garden center, photo center, bank, coffee shop, restaurant, and even a gas station. The company plans to build scores of superstores across New England.
Stop & Shop’s plan for Peterborough included closing its existing 40,000-square-foot grocery store and building a much larger superstore on a nine-acre site. Because the town owns part of the site, the company needed residents to agree to sell the land in order to proceed.
The proposal won the support of many community leaders, including the Board of Selectmen, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Corporation. Stop & Shop conducted an extensive drive to sway public opinion, hiring campaign experts, mailing glossy brochures to every household, and following up with phone calls.
But concerns about traffic and the impact a superstore would have on local businesses and Peterborough’s small town feel ultimately won out. At the town meeting, opponents highlighted numerous misleading statements by the developer and argued that the town would be better served by redeveloping, rather than abandoning, the existing supermarket. Residents voted 542-259 against selling the site to Stop & Shop.
"We had a really dedicated group of people who just kept digging and asking questions," LaPointe noted. "In the end, a lot of the people who had been quiet or absent from the [hearings] really came out and voted this down."
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