By BRIDGET CARTER

Inside the little Northland township of Kerikeri, petitions are circulating, shop owners are worrying and a strategy is unfolding to keep out The Warehouse.

Pam Fenton has the letters from residents.

They say things such as: "Kerikeri was voted top town and does not deserve to be ruined by the superstore", and "small US towns have died after massive chain stores have moved in".

The new Warehouse store is expected to be built at Waipapa, just north of the township, following rumours that it was to go in at the Kerikeri turnoff on State Highway 10.

The exact plans are to be revealed at a meeting with The Warehouse management in Kerikeri tomorrow night.

Some shoppers in Kerikeri welcome the new store's arrival, saying it will save them the 20-minute drive to the next closest store at Kaikohe.

But the town's shop owners fear it will seduce customers with its mega centre bargains at Waipapa and leave Kerikeri's cottage-like shops struggling to survive.

Kerikeri Business Association chairman Rob Vincent says The Warehouse has had a disastrous effect on other Northland towns such as Kaitaia and Kaikohe.

Both towns now have main streets with empty shops.

He shares the views of Pam Fenton, a Kerikeri resident of 14 years, who is leading plans to launch a campaign this week to keep The Warehouse out.

The campaign may include university research to show the impact The Warehouse has had on small town New Zealand.

Other business owners believe Kerikeri will survive on its rural charm.

They say their town, based on the northwest arm of the Bay of Islands amid orchards and farmland, attracts a number of tourists and has a reputation for arts and crafts.

It has a busy main street with bars and restaurants that leads to the Kerikeri inlet and the township's historic stone store built in 1833.

And among the 17,000 people who live there are residents from overseas, farmers and retired couples from Auckland.

Glen Inger, one of The Warehouse group managers, says the company is looking to base a store just out of town because of land availability and because the store has been driven out of the Kerikeri centre.

Mr Inger said The Warehouse was often blamed for the changes in provincial New Zealand that had come about through Government policy.

He said that some people had forgotten small towns were always serviced by department stores such as Farmers in the past.

At the Kerikeri Guthrie Bowron, Don Vokes says he plans to compete with the giant newcomer by outstripping them with service.

"The Warehouse is a cash and carry," he says.

"Personal, individual service is where we will win."