The wrong change, says group: Dollar store a bad fit for Palisade
Erin Stephens-Marner’s life has taken her to both coasts of the United States, with time spent in Alaska, California and West Virginia. But when it came to deciding where she wanted to raise her three children, the 40-year-old returned to Palisade, the town where she grew up.
“I love my community. I love Palisade,” she said.
So, when she learned town leaders opened the door for a national discount retailer to build a store at the gateway to downtown, she objected, perceiving a threat to local businesses and the charm of a town that prides itself on local creations, be it produce, wine or art.
Stephens-Marner and other residents have formed a group in opposition to Palisade’s plans to bring a Dollar General to town. The group, Citizens for Smart Growth, alleges town administrators and the Town Board acted hastily and failed to involve residents in the decision-making process, and it questions the ultimate benefit the store will provide the town.
“This isn’t like putting a slide in at a park. This changes the face of the community,” Stephens-Marner said.
But town officials, concerned about the recent closure of three businesses in town, say the store will sell a variety of goods that can’t be obtained in Palisade and will generate vital sales tax revenue.
Trustee Jim Harkreader said during a Town Board meeting Tuesday night that while the town has made great strides in promoting tourism and agriculture to attract visitors and shoppers, those industries don’t support the town year-round. He said Palisade doesn’t have enough residents to support local businesses and must do more to boost foot traffic in town.
“It’s dying on the vine in front of us as we’re watching it. And we’re not going to let that happen,” he said.
Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based Dollar General, which operates 9,200 stores in 35 states, would build a 9,200-square-foot store on about an acre north of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and west of Main Street.
Palisade trustees approved purchasing the property for $125,000 in March of last year, noting it would give the town control over an important piece of land. Two weeks ago, they adopted an emergency ordinance offering to sell the property to a land-development company for $133,500. The extra $8,500 covered the money the town spent to improve the site. Town Administrator Tim Sarmo said the company agreed to the sale offer Friday.
The emergency status of the ordinance allowed the purchase to be done immediately. Normally, after an ordinance is approved and published in the newspaper, 30 days must pass before it goes into effect so that people can comment about it. Members of Citizens for Smart Growth argue the speed at which the transaction went through effectively silenced their voices on the matter.
Sarmo said the Town Board was afraid a delay could result in losing Dollar General to another location outside the town or another community outside the Grand Valley.
“The board felt this was an important addition to the community and needed to act very quickly or possibly fail to compete for new retail activity,” he said.
Many residents, though, wonder whether a Dollar General meshes with the character of Palisade and worry it will jeopardize other businesses.
The discount retailer would set up shop directly north of Family Food Town, 112 W. Third St. Owner Kelly Myers told town trustees Tuesday night he believes Dollar General will siphon money from his business and others, rather than add to the town’s sales-tax base.
“I’ve been struggling to keep my head above water,” he said.
Palisade resident Derek Stephens noted that a town survey recently showed that residents, when asked what types of additional businesses Palisade needed, offered the least support for big-box stores among 10 choices.
Resident Blaine Diffendaffer told trustees that he understands the town’s financial struggles but that drawing a national discount retailer to town contradicts Palisade’s tradition of backing local businesses.
“You’re bringing in no more than a Wal-Mart,” he said. “It’s junk.”
Sarmo and trustees insist that introducing new businesses benefits existing businesses. And Sarmo took offense to suggestions that “somehow a discount store and it’s clientele are beneath the qualities we would want in Palisade.”
“I find that sentiment to be elitist and not something we would want to encourage,” he said. “Discount pricing is a fact of life in a free-market economy.”
Dollar General and its developer must still close on the sale of the property and win approval from the town’s Planning Commission on a major site plan. Sarmo said assuming those hurdles are cleared, construction could begin as soon as this summer.