May 06, 2002 11:00 pm

We want to make it perfectly clear we support Wal-Mart being a part of our local retail economy, just as we support Bi-Mart, Rite Aid, Safeway, Albertsons, Shop'n Kart and dozens of other retailers that provide a multitude of choices for the people who live and work in Union County and those living in neighboring counties.

WHAT WE DO NOT support is the concept of a single store or company attempting to dominate and control the retail environment. It is essential for a community like La Grande/Island City to foster a healthy retail environment that will provide the best in shopping opportunities.

The argument that many political and civic leaders make that a super store will draw more customers to La Grande and Island City to shop is pure fiction. Already, the La Grande area has a tremendous retail leakage problem every weekend. Hundreds of local shoppers leave the area to shop in Washington's Tri-Cities.

Those who think more people from Wallowa County will rush to La Grande/Island City obviously don't realize the number of that county's shoppers who are heading weekly to Lewiston, Idaho, another regional shopping hub. Even people from Baker County can drive the relatively short distance to Ontario or on to Boise to enhance their shopping experience. If anyone wants to take the time to study the issue, no regional shopping hub relies on a single super store to draw shoppers. It is a diversity of many well-known retailers that draws customers.

Still, some political leaders are worried that the Wal-Mart super store could land in neighboring Baker City and draw shoppers from Union County away. Currently, Baker City does not have the land available within its urban growth boundary to site a super store. That community, too, would have to expand its UGB, which could be difficult to accomplish.

WE QUESTION IF PEOPLE from this county would flock to Baker City to shop at a super store. It is nearly the same distance to Pendleton that has one in place and yet most people from our area bypass Pendleton and Hermiston in order to do their shopping in the Tri-Cities.

We already have a 72,000-square-foot WalMart store that provides many inexpensive items for those who live and work in the area. What the company doesn't provide is the kind of jobs that offer wages and benefits to build the future of the area.

Like K-Mart, Wal-Mart provides products that meet a need in the community. We like Wal-Mart's current position. But we believe it is essential for the long-term health of the area to keep a balance of retailers.

We would like to see more retailers locate in La Grande/Island City in order to offer a more diverse retail marketplace. As our retail economic base expands, the more likely it will be that people will drive the extra miles to shop in our community.