Friday, May 14, 2021

Foothills wine region resists siting of Dollar General, invoking area's rurality as inconsistent with chain

Gray's Corner, Somerset, California, May, 2021

The adjacent communities of FairPlay, Somerset and Mt. Aukum have for several months been resisting Dollar General's proposal to site a story at the corner of Mr. Aukum Road and Fairplay Road, in El Dorado County, California.  This place is an hour away from where I live in greater Sacramento, and I've been paying more attention to this dispute than I might otherwise because my family has an off-the-grid cabin a few miles away.  So we're in the area once a month or so, and we also subscribe to the local "Nextdoor" chat.  That's where we started seeing talk of this Dollar General set to go in there--we heard about it as the locals organized on NextDoor to try to stop it. 

The biggest obstacle to stopping the siting of the Dollar General in this location seems to be that it is already zoned commercial.  In fact, the Dollar General would sit adjacent to "Gray's Corner" convenience store, your typical gas station and mini-mart.  There's another building there, too, where there used to be a beauty salon--and perhaps also a tasting room.  But now it's just Gray's Corner market and the specter of a Dollar General.   

The locals have tried various methods to oppose the Dollar General.  Here's an online petition, which features the following information about the corporation (none of which I have verified):  

Dollar General's start up is only $250,000. It recoups this investment in under 2 years. It targets rural communities of less than 20, 000 people and Low INCOME areas. They target areas known as "food deserts" where residents do not have ready access to food stores. Many states have policies that prevent Dollar General from opening within a mile of an established store. The target audience buys small quantity house brands that actually cost more than going to town to buy in greater bulk. Their marketing demographic is low income, seniors and millennials and those with just a few dollars in their pocket. There are now more Dollar General Stores than McDonalds in the US.

More authoritative is this column by Brian Depew of the Center for Rural Affairs.  He provides this perspective in the May/June 2021 newsletter:  

Dollar General has become a ubiquitous feature of America’s small towns. The discount retailer is opening new stores at a rate of 1,000 a year. There are now more than 16,000 spread across the country, including two in the county where I live. The unmistakable concrete walls, steel roof, and bright yellow sign are now commonplace on the outskirts of small towns and stand out like palmer amaranth in a soybean field.

Many local economic developers see the discount retailer as a threat to local retail. Dollar General added limited groceries in 2003, posing a unique threat to local grocery stores, which often operate on tight margins.

Other economic developers argue Dollar General creates jobs and helps keep shoppers in town. I get it. In thousands of miles spent traversing the rural Midwest, I have found myself in small towns with no other retail or grocery options.

The irony is that this solution makes the situation worse with low-wage jobs, loss of local ownership, and loss of local tax revenue when other businesses close or fail to open because they cannot, or don’t want to, compete with a corporate behemoth.

We must grow and nurture the communities we want to live in. Local ownership of small businesses, farms, and ranches makes communities stronger. Local owners care about their towns, neighbors, and customers.

When you shop at the local hardware store, the profit stays in town and builds the local economy. At Dollar General, every dollar of profit goes to Wall Street. The company reported $27.8 billion in sales in 2019, and its stock climbed 700% in 10 years.

Protecting our communities from these corporate interests is difficult, but here are a few strategies to consider.
Gray's Corner, Somerset, California, May, 2021

Speaking of strategies of resistance, at the dozens of wineries near the proposed site, one can find large postcards opposing the Dollar General, which include language like this: 

Help our Community and Neighbors stop the proposed Dollar General from moving into the Fair Play area.  We are the Fair Play AVA and it took a ton of work and individual effort to obtain that classification.  We do not need a Dollar General Store being the first thing our guests and tourists see when they come into the Fair Play area.  


EMAIL edc.cob@edcgov.uds AND 


Postcards being distributed at FairPlay AVA wineries, May 2021 (c) Lisa R. Pruitt

The postcards feature an aerial view of the FairPlay area.  This is not the first time I've seen campaigns explicitly invoking El Dorado County's rural character, usually in the election context.  Some posts about those earlier events/issues are here, here and here.  Some posts about commerce in El Dorado County, including Fair Play, are here, here, and here.  

Vacant lot where proposed Dollar General Store would be sited in FairPlay, California

As it happens, these efforts to lobby the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors have thus far fallen on deaf ears.  And on March 10, 2021, the Sacramento Business Journal reported that the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors had rejected a proposal to ban approvals of chain businesses in rural parts of the county for 45 days.  This must have arisen because of the Dollar General matter, but I can't get behind the paywall to see if Dollar General is mentioned in the story.  

Vacant commercial center at Gray's Corner,
FairPlay (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2021
Looking at the county newspaper, the Mountain Democrat (which holds itself out as the oldest paper in California), I see coverage of a rally last Saturday in opposition to the store.  The caption for a photo accompanying that story (also behind a paywall) states:

The Dollar General proposed to go in at that very intersection does not need Planning Commission approval as the site is zoned commercial and the county has no design requirements in place that might protect the rural character of the area. Residents say the region, which is known for its wineries and scenic countryside, is not the right fit for a chain store.

I also see from searching the Mountain Democrat website that other communities in the county successfully fended off Dollar General stores.  Those were in the northern part of the county, north of Highway 50, in the arguably more atmospheric Gold Rush towns of Georgetown and Cool.  You can read more here (just go to the Mountain Democrat's website and search "Dollar General").  At least one of those matters wound up in El Dorado County Superior Court.  

Prior posts about El Dorado County are here, here, here, here, here, and here.  

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