Jenny Mayher can still remember how she felt standing in the upstairs room of the Damariscotta River Grill on March 21, 2006.
She, along with Eleanor Kinney and other members of the grass-roots organization Our Town Damariscotta, were awaiting the results on a referendum vote for a proposed 35,000-square-foot retail size cap.
If the vote passed, Wal-Mart’s plan to build a 186,800-square-foot supercenter on Route 1 would no longer be possible.
“We just kept waiting and waiting,” Mayher said. “Finally Steve Hufnagel and Peter Drum came up the stairs with these serious, somber looks on their faces, and the room just went quiet.”
When Hufnagel and Drum revealed the size cap had passed with a vote of 747-456, the room erupted.
“People were screaming and hugging,” Mayher said. “I just remember thinking all the hard work, the time and effort, had all been worth it.”
Mayher and Kinney, along with former members of Our Town and residents of the community, returned to the Damariscotta River Grill on Sunday, March 20 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the vote.
“It really has gone by fast,” Kinney said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been 10 years at all.”
In 2005, Mayher heard a rumor that Wal-Mart was interested in building a store in Damariscotta. Mayher and Kinney formed Our Town Damariscotta and began circulating a petition outlining their concerns about the possible development of a big-box store in the town.
On Nov. 1, 2005, the group submitted a petition with 320 signatures supporting a 35,000-square-foot cap on commercial developments in Damariscotta. More than 1,000 people signed the petition, Mayher said.
“People thought we were overreacting to a rumor, but about six weeks after we turned in the petition, Wal-Mart confirmed they were looking to build in Damariscotta,” Mayher said. “That’s really when the campaign took off.”
In the weeks leading up to the March 21, 2006 vote, Our Town sent out emails and mailings and made phone calls to encourage people to get out and vote. Public meetings and discussions were held with local businesses and community members.
“We really tried to run a fact-based campaign,” Kinney said. “There are 3,000 Wal-Marts across the country, but there is only one Damariscotta, and that’s really what we focused our attention on.
“It was not about saying no to Wal-Mart, but about saying yes to Damariscotta.”
The hard work paid off. The size cap passed by a nearly 2-1 margin.
“There is something about Damariscotta that makes it special, and I think the vote showed that people wanted to preserve that,” Mayher said. “And here we are, 10 years later, and it’s still that same special place. It’s a town that values the small businesses and a community that wants to preserve that character.”