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MAJORITY OF COUNTY RESIDENTS FAVOR PROPOSAL FOR WAL-MART

The smell of gourmet coffee fills the air while best sellers, puzzles and trinkets line the walls of Sue Phillips store, the Book Shoppe on Main Street in Medina.

With a small store that runs as much for the love of the printed word as for the income, Phillips says she's not worried about the possibility of Wal-Mart coming to Orleans County.

"I can offer something they can't," she said. "Service and a person you know."

Phillips is one of the 309 merchants in Orleans County who responded to a survey seeking input from the business community on the possibility of a Wal-Mart store being built in the county.

The survey results released last weekend show that about 56 percent of the respondents looked favorably on the project planned for the intersection of Route 31 and Gaines Basin Road in Albion.

Orleans County is devoid of a department store after two Ames stores closed in the last several years. Now residents must travel to Buffalo, Batavia or Niagara Falls to find a department store.

And while a recent survey conducted by the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce shows wide support for a department store, nearly four out of every five respondents oppose the supercenter idea being considered by Wal-Mart.

Mia Masten, a Wal-Mart spokesperson, said central Orleans County was selected because of a lack of outlets in the area, and that Wal-Mart has found large success in New York State.

"We're really only in the initial phase right now and we have a lot to do yet," she said, adding that the vacant area being considered must first be rezoned to commercial before the project could move ahead.

She also said the approval process, combined with weather concerns while building a store, could make the wait for a store to open at least 18 to 24 months.

Craig Tuohey, head of the Medina Business Association, said board members have looked into the plan, and while they too favor a department store, Wal-Mart may not be the first choice.

"One thing that concerns us is that Wal-Mart, for various reasons, doesn't deal with local vendors and we want a community partner instead of just a business," he said.

Peter Snell, co-chairman of the Albion Business Association, agreed there is a need for a department store but said that having one shouldn't be at the cost of the small-town downtown redevelopment that began in 2003.

"It's a challenge for a small town to balance keeping the community's personality and small-town attraction while facing that there are needs that must be met," Snell said.

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