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HOME DEPOT IS RUMORED; OPPOSITION IS DEFINITE

Sept. 17, 2002 – While no one will confirm the persistent rumor that Home Depot is on its way to St. Thomas, a move is under way to keep the national chain out.
An entity called the Independent Retailers Group formed on island about six months ago to prevent Home Depot and other "big box" national stores from opening their doors on St. Thomas, Mike Perron of the Paint Depot said.
The group has invited Al Norman, who has successfully helped residents of 164 communities mobilize to keep out Wal- Mart, Home Depot and other similar stores, to speak on island. He'll do so at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Learning and Communication Center in Royal Dane Mall. The center is located behind Tavern on the Waterfront at street level.
Norman, who also is scheduled to make local radio addresses, is the author of "Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart," a primer on how to keep national chains out of your community, and editor of the "Sprawl-Busters Alert."
Norman got his start in Greenfield, Massachusetts, in 1993, when he led the fight to keep Wal-Mart out of his hometown. Since then, he has gained national attention through appearances on the television program "60 Minutes" and interviews in publications such as The Wall Street Journal. National Public Radio titled its feature on him "Store Wars."
For more background on Norman, visit his Sprawl-Busters Consultants Web site.
Enrique Rodriquez, who owns Rodriquez Auto Parts and Time Center True Value Hardware Store, said the Independent Retailers Group has about a dozen members. They signed on because they are able to provide financial support for a fight against national chains such as Home Depot, he said. Additionally, he said, other business owners support their efforts.
Perron said that while he is not against competition, huge chain stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart snuff out small local businesses. He said the chains keep undercutting prices of locally owned businesses until the small shops are forced to close. He also said that while the large chains promise jobs, they turn out to be less than full time.
Rodriquez said that the profits of the big chains will go off island. "We live here. Our profits stay here," he said. Also, he said, those national companies will not use local service providers such as advertising agencies and accountants.
Rodriquez also worried that the large off-island companies will get Economic Development Commission benefits not available to small businesses. He suggested that the V.I. government reduce excise and gross receipts taxes for local business so they can lower their prices.
While some local business owners are vowing to fight Home Depot's arrival, St. Thomas do-it-yourself-er Billy Walker has his arms wide open in welcome. "It's going to be fantastic," he said.
While he looks forward to lower prices, Walker also said that Home Depot carries a bigger selection than all of the existing building supply stores on St. Thomas combined. "Lots of stuff Home Depot carries, we don't get here," he said.
And, he said, with Island Block reportedly planning to shut its doors sometime in the near future, there will definitely be room for another player.
Walker also predicted that shoppers will easily be able to order merchandise they don't find on the Home Depot shelves.
David Holzman, who owns Innovative Builders on St. John, said he definitely would give Home Depot a try. "But I would compare prices and services with local business," he said.
Holtzman, too, mentioned that Home Depot offers a larger selection of items than local stores. However, he said, it remains to be seen if the St. Thomas Home Depot will be as large as those on the mainland.
The rumors keep flying, with the San Juan Star having reported this summer that the chain is coming to St. Thomas. Perron said it's definitely so — and that the facility will be located behind Cost-U-Less on Weymouth Rhymer Highway. "I've seen the blueprints," he said.
Don Harrison, public relations manager for Home Depot in Atlanta, said on Tuesday that he has no information about the chain opening a store on St. Thomas. "If a real estate deal is in negotiation, those conversations are proprietary," he said. "Real estate keeps its negotiations close to the vest."
Etienne Bertrand, who heads Lockhart Companies Inc., did not return a telephone call on Tuesday requesting comment. Last month, he denied that the company was negotiating a deal with Home Depot for its property near Cost-U-Less.

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