The residents of Saranac Lake, a picturesque town in the Adirondacks, are a hardy lot — they have to be to withstand winter temperatures that can drop to 30 below zero. But since the local Ames department store went out of business in 2002 — a victim of its corporate parent’s bankruptcy — residents have had to drive to Plattsburgh, 50 miles away, to buy basics like underwear or bed linens. And that was simply too much.
So when Wal-Mart Stores came knocking, some here welcomed it. Others felt that the company’s plan to build a 120,000-square-foot supercenter would overwhelm their village, with its year-round population of 5,000, and put local merchants out of business.
It’s a situation familiar to many communities these days. But rather than accept their fate, residents of Saranac Lake did something unusual: they decided to raise capital to open their own department store. Shares in the store, priced at $100 each, were marketed to local residents as a way to “take control of our future and help our community,” said Melinda Little, a Saranac Lake resident who has been involved in the effort from the start. “The idea was, this is an investment in the community as well as the store.”
It took nearly five years — the recession added to the challenge — but the organizers reached their $500,000 goal last spring. By then, some 600 people had chipped in an average of $800 each. And so, on Oct. 29, as an early winter storm threatened the region, the Saranac Lake Community Store opened its doors to the public for the first time. By 9:30 in the morning, the store, in a former restaurant space on Main Street opposite the Hotel Saranac, was packed with shoppers, well-wishers and the curious.