Wal-Mart Stores Inc. might open a branch in La Plata.

The retailing giant, which already has two stores in Waldorf, is looking at several sites in the region for another store, said Keith Morris, a spokesman for Wal-Mart.

"Things right now are very preliminary," Morris said. He said the process could end with a decision not to build another store.

Wal-Mart applied to the State Highway Administration for permission to have a driveway on U.S. Route 301 in La Plata, said Valerie Edgar, a spokeswoman with the state agency.

The parcel involved is on the west side of Route 301, along the southbound lanes just south of the Charles County sheriff's office headquarters, according to La Plata town officials.

They said Wal-Mart had not yet contacted them.

Wal-Mart sometimes faces opposition in small towns because of concerns that its wide selection and low prices could put small merchants out of business.

The possibility of a Wal-Mart in La Plata has not yet sparked much discussion, Mayor William F. Eckman said.

"It's too early," Eckman said. "My gut feeling is some businesses would be hurt. But some would gain."

He said a Wal-Mart might attract shoppers who welcome the chance to avoid a trip to Waldorf, where there already is a Wal-Mart as well as a SAM's Club, a warehouse-style store operated by Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart operates nearly 1,900 discount stores in the United States, and 1,000 other outlets that are either Supercenters or SAM's Clubs. In Maryland, the nation's largest retailer operates 23 discount stores, one Supercenter and 10 SAM's Clubs.