The Vermont motto might be “Freedom and Unity”, but these days, Dollar General isn’t feeling either from Vermont residents. In fact, efforts to open new stores in the state are being met with downright resistance.
If all of this sounds peculiar, especially in an economy that would encourage cities and states to bring in new business, you should know that Vermont residents are concerned about their “image” and “lifestyle”. Are they snobs?
Dollar General Leader in Industry
For years, Dollar General has been the leader in the dollar store industry. In fact, it has smaller “box” stores popping up around the country. They can be constructed quickly because they’re not as big as Wal Mart or Target and often, because they open stores in rural areas that might not could accommodate those bigger stores, they don’t have the same roadblocks. They also don’t have the same red tape as locally owned small business owners face. Specifically, bed and breakfast inns say Dollar General is ruining their “quaint” images.
While most small businesses easily accommodate credit cards, Dollar General has unrolled its latest convenience: PayPal customers no longer have to swipe their cards, but instead, enter their email address on the checkout scanner, followed by their password or PIN and once the transaction’s approved, they’re on their way. Not very quaint, but most certainly convenient for the millions of transactions the chain processes every day. It’s also a convenience that most other businesses in any sector can’t offer. Still, they say it has more to do with those familiar yellow and black signs popping up in their charming communities.
It should be noted that the store isn’t growing as quickly as some would have zoning commissions believe. In fact, there have only been six Dollar Generals opened in the state over the past 3+ years. That’s not exactly an invasion.
One attorney in Chester is leading the way against Dollar General. Jim Dumont says the “essence of Vermont” is at stake.
What my clients share is their concern that Vermont needs to stay Vermont. A good part of our lifestyle and economy would disappear if, when people arrive in Vermont for vacation from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, the towns look exactly the same as the ones they just left,
Incredibly, Chester has been able to keep Dollar General out of its city. It accomplished this by convincing the county government to rescind the zoning permit. It’s now being investigated. Slowly. Meanwhile, another town in Vermont, Ferrisburgh, has also been successful in its efforts of ceasing new construction for Dollar General. That case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Second Homes and Taxes
One of those leading that charge insists Dollar General is affecting the second home market that’s prevalent in Vermont. Shawn Cunningham says it’s not just tourism he believes would be affected, but the small “mom and pop” businesses. The way another small business would be affected sounds reasonable enough, but tourism? He says seeing the chain would “turn off” tourists who come to stay at the area’s bed and breakfasts. He says it’s those second home owners who add to the economy because of the tax base.
Residents pay based on their income, but those with second homes pay significantly more.
Some say it’s snobby behavior and that if those leading the charge aren’t careful, they might lose far more than they gain. A small antiques store owner, William Austin Smith, disagrees with those leading the charge against the dollar store. He agrees that his business relies on tourism, but there’s also room for what a dollar store can offer a community. He points out there’s no pharmacy in his town and that while residents can visit the local convenience store,
…they rake you through the coals. There’s nowhere you can go to buy some reasonably priced batteries or shoelaces. You need to drive to Springfield.
Not everyone agrees. Another member of that same community says, “We know the town needs a drugstore … but the Dollar General stores just pollute communities. They pop up everywhere,” he says.
Not only that, but if those second home residents are paying that much in taxes, many suspect they don’t mind a dollar store in the area.
Keeping Dollars in the Community
Another small business, this time a small supermarket owner, says what Dollar General offers can actually complement her offerings. Wendy Horne says her business is great year-round, but that some things aren’t available in her business and people have to travel to the next town. A Dollar General can keep those dollars in the community.
Are the community leaders doing more harm than good for the residents? It’s possible. For years, leaders have been able to put tough restrictions on bigger retail chains, like Wal Mart. One of those requirements is that smaller stores must be open in urban areas. It’s all about the long term “footprint” retailers leave. One community leaders says he understands:
the need for the kind of shopping experience provided by Dollar General, and we can be supportive when they are located in downtowns. We have issues with their design [right now], which is not a design that fits in.
Others say their historic buildings and “strong working landscape farms” makes it difficult to justify the addition of a dollar store.
Perhaps Vermont doesn’t need the revenue these stores offer. Maybe it’s not been as deeply affected by the recession (although the numbers suggest it was one of the most affected states during the recession) or maybe there are people who simply don’t want to be seen shopping at a dollar store. Whatever the reasons, if these issues are forced, Vermont could end up losing far more than the black and yellow signs and one-dollar shoestrings. The fact is, Dollar General, and other similar business models, are one of a few that actually fared the tough economic times better than others. Its PayPal addition eliminates the need for swiping a PayPal card and it’s just the beginning as the chain continues to bring the latest technological advances to the forefront.