Oakland - Homegrown Tools

Oakland, MD

Updated: 2022

Oakland demonstrates that the arrival of Wal-Mart need not be a death knell for small, local businesses. Through the Main Street Program, Oakland works with existing business owners to prepare for the arrival of Wal-Mart.

Population2020 2,099
Median Household Income2020$54,519
Poverty Rate 202011.5%
Proximity to Urban Center 96 miles to Pittsburgh, Pa.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 25 miles
Case Study Time Frame 1998-2002
Municipal Budget FY2022 recommended3.6 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Oakland, a small town in western Maryland, prepared its downtown retail community for inevitable competition from a big-box retailer, leading to a unique partnership between Main Street retailers and the local Wal-Mart. As a result, Oakland has a thriving downtown with near- zero vacancy and the local Wal-Mart is one of the company’s highest- grossing locations in the country. “Wal-Mart’s arrival in Garrett County ended up being a win-win for almost everybody involved, including local retailers,” said Duane Yoder of Garrett County Community Action.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Big-box retail does not necessarily destroy Main Street. As big-box retailers saturate urban markets, more and more small towns are facing the prospect of competition from big-box retail. The perception is that Wal-Mart (and others) will inevitably cripple Main Street businesses, especially retail. This outcome is not inevitable, however. In the case of Oakland, the Main Street Program created capacity within the community that could be used to gain Wal-Mart’s support of Oakland’s improving downtown.


Community capacity-building efforts should be viewed as having usefulness beyond their immediate purpose. The Main Street Program was intended to bring prosperity and vitality to downtown Oakland by creating better streetscapes, developing community activities and promoting downtown businesses, but it was the community mobilization aspect of this program that was critical to the alliance with Wal-Mart and the coalition created among neighboring towns. Towns with scarce resources should examine existing programs to see how they might be leveraged in new ways to enhance the community.


Look for opportunity in adversity. Oakland could have pursued an expensive legal strategy of keeping Wal-Mart out of town. This approach might make sense for some small towns. By viewing the arrival of Wal-Mart as an opportunity to move local retailers up the value chain, however, Oakland created a more viable Main Street for the long term. In addition, by viewing the retailer as an ally in promoting downtown activities, Oakland was able to bring Wal-Mart on board with its agenda. Such a strategy can create a better environment for future collaboration.