Last winter I wrote about a possible trend in which dollar stores were moving into older downtowns, filling vacant spaces abandoned decades ago when stores left for the interstate exits and strip malls. I thought I’d spotted an intriguing trend in small towns across the country, but I hadn’t actually seen too many examples.
Then, over the summer, Family Dollar proposed to locate on a narrow lot in downtown Mineral, Va., a town of 450 or so a few miles away from where I live. The reaction to this proposal wasn’t quite what I had anticipated.
The store concept was greeted with dismay by people who lived in the adjacent neighborhood. Many of them were certain that a dollar store would attract the wrong element to their community. They predicted an increase in crime, trash, and a decline in property values.
One of the points I made when I wrote about these stores last winter is that more middle class people are buying goods from them than in the past. This is partly a consequence of the economic downturn, but also the fact that these stores have tried to change their marketing and product selection to appeal to more people.
This is no doubt true in the Mineral area, as much as anywhere else. But many people still consider dollar stores to be “low class.”
Of course, Family Dollar is also a national chain store, and increasingly what people want in their downtowns is local uniqueness.
There are only two other places to buy groceries and other basic items in the town. One is another dollar store, run by another national chain. The other is a small, older grocery store directly across the street from where Family Dollar wanted to go. It’s arguable the older store would have benefited from a little direct competition.
The way this got resolved was a bit sad, as far as public process goes. A resident pointed out that the town’s zoning law didn’t allow the store to be located there, because the store would have been too large. Rather than address the concerns of residents about the perceived negative impacts of the store, the town simply changed its zoning to allow it.
Still, despite the lousy process, I feel like having another store in town could ultimately benefit the downtown revitalization. And I’ll bet a lot of the people who would like to shop there kept silent while their neighbors denounced the store.
(Photo by NNECAPA CC BY)