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Wal-Mart opponents try to recruit Rite Aid to block retailer in Boulder

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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An anti-Wal-Mart group in Boulder, Colo. is trying to forge an unusual alliance in its efforts to blockade the big-box retailer from opening its first store in the city — by turning to another national chain in the hope of sparking a turf war.

The group, Don’t Big Box Boulder, is trying to recruit drugstore chain Rite Aid to oppose a planned Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market grocery store.

Rite Aid, which has a store in the same shopping center where the Wal-Mart store will be located, has a right to complain, according to Don’t Big Box Boulder spokesman David Lassio. A 1969 document details restrictions and covenants on the land, one of which bans more than one “full line discount department store.”

Lassio is trying to convince Rite Aid that it meets the definition of a full line discount department store and that it can make a ruckus about Wal-Mart’s plans if it chooses.

Lassio is opposed to Wal-Mart because big chain stores wreck local mom-and-pop operations, he said. But when pressed for an example of such a business that could be threatened by the grocery store, he cited a 60,000-square-foot hardware store located about two miles from the proposed location.

Lassio said he’s worried that the 52,000-square foot grocery store will expand into a larger Super Center once Wal-Mart has run the neighbors out of business.

Boulder, despite its hippie reputation, isn’t exactly virgin territory for big box retailers or national grocers. Apple, Whole Foods, Safeway, Best Buy, Macy’s, Target, Office Depot, Home Depot and Bed Bath and Beyond are just some of the national retailers with locations in Boulder.

Even Lassio works for a national corporation as a meat cutter at King Soopers, which is owned by Kroger.

But he says he sees nothing strange in working for one national corporation while wooing another to oppose a third, all on behalf of what he called small local businesses.

“I don’t see anything strange about it at all,” Lassio said.

“We were looking at what Wal-Mart’s history is, what they do when they come into an area,” he said. “What they normally do is a lot of businesses go out of business. We were looking from that aspect to protect and preserve the small business and the community of Boulder.”

Lassio also criticized the retailer for paying low wages and offering expensive insurance.

But similar charges have been leveled at Rite Aid in recent years, with workers at some stores in California threatening strikes and unions decrying its high salaries for executives compared to workers’ wages.

Lassio says Rite Aid is better than Wal-Mart “in the sense that they’re not a predatory company.”

Boulder has a history of resisting national chains. Nearby communities are filled with the Sam’s Clubs and Costcos that have been discouraged from locating within Boulder city limits. Critics say that pushing out box stores that offer more affordable products only contribute to traffic and pollution, as customers must drive out of town to save a buck.

Lassio’s group is petitioning the Boulder City Council as well as Rite Aid to fend off Wal-Mart, but he admits that there may not be anything the council can do — the city isn’t a party to the restrictive covenants applied to the shopping center and therefore can’t enforce them.

For its part, Rite Aid told The Daily Camera that it’s not “pursuing any action at this time” regarding Wal-Mart.

The Wal-Mart store is scheduled to open later this year.

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