Wal-Mart protesters stage rally in Decatur

About 100 protesters rallied in Decatur Saturday against a Wal-Mart proposed for a site about a mile from the city's downtown square.

A three-piece band played as protesters carried "Stop Wal-Mart" signs and chanted "Super neighborhoods, not supercenters," a dig aimed at the proposed 150,000-square-foot store, which would include a grocery store and pharmacy.

Residents say the big-box development is a bad fit for Decatur, which prides itself on local businesses and a small-town feel.

"I think it threatens the way of life here in Decatur," said Robert Blondeau, who lives about a mile from the proposed store. "It's a small-town feel, lots of local business catering to various niche needs, and I don't know that Wal-Mart is offering us anything we can't get by driving three miles away."

The proposed store is smaller than some of Wal-Mart's other supercenters, which can be 250,000 square feet. The store could bring an estimated 250 to 300 jobs to DeKalb County. It will occupy a spot in aging Suburban Plaza on North Decatur Road between Church Street and Medlock Road.

Bill Wertz, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said the demonstrators represent only a small group, and that many in Decatur are pleased about the store’s opening. As for concerns about congestion, he said traffic speaks to the demand for the store, “and that can very good for surrounding businesses.”

Those who attended Saturday's protest fear the store will hurt local businesses and make traffic worse. Pushing baby strollers and walking dogs, the protesters marched from the proposed Wal-Mart site down Church Street to Decatur Square.

"Wal-Mart has decreased the quality of life in so many communities," said Carter Joseph, a Decatur resident who said he walks almost everywhere to get what he needs. "I live on a heavily traveled street. This would make traffic so much worse."

The 290,000-square-foot Suburban Plaza, which opened in 1959, currently has 1,100 parking spaces and is anchored by a Big Lots and a bowling alley. Developer Selig Enterprises announced its planned redevelopment last year.