We may live in an era of the superstore, but ordinary people have a fair amount of leverage over whether and how bigbox retailers expand into new territory.

As it turns out, superstore chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. pay close attention to community reaction after they file a proposal to open a store in a specific location. And the presence or absence of protest activity can affect whether a company decides to open a new store. “When you have activists who pursue causes,...

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