The Atlantic

A Small Town Kept Walmart Out. Now It Faces Amazon.

How can local businesses compete with a company so local it lets people shop from their couches?
Source: Charlie Riedel / AP

GREENFIELD, Mass.—Al Norman has been fighting to keep Walmart and other big-box retailers out of small towns like this one for 25 years. He’s been successful in Greenfield, his hometown and the site of his first battle with Walmart, and in dozens of other towns across the country—victories he documents on his website Sprawl-Busters, an “International Clearinghouse on Big Box Anti-Sprawl Information.” Partly because of Norman’s efforts to keep out such stores, Greenfield still has a Main Street with dozens of businesses, including a bookstore, a record store, and Wilson’s, one of the last independently owned department stores in the country.

But Norman and business owners in Greenfield are noticing that the Main Street stores are now struggling in the face of another force that’s become more and more powerful in recent years: e-commerce. Many customers who kept shopping in Greenfield’s downtown because Walmart was too far away are now turning to Amazon and other websites that offer free and fast shipping for basic needs, sapping business away from local stores that had survived for so long. Facing competition from a company as enormous as Amazon, some local stores are having trouble staying open.

I twice stopped by Wilson’s, the department store, to try to meet the manager, and saw no shoppers inside the store the entire time I was there. (Wilson’s did not respond to multiple interview requests for this story.) And Home Furnishing Co., a 100-year-old store in downtown Greenfield, closed last year, and then Magical Child, a toy store on the brink

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