It was standing room only at Peabody council meeting Monday, and with Dollar General on the agenda, the chance for a barrage of bellicose statements ran high.
But save for those on the agenda, all held their tongues. Not a single person spoke when the public was invited to make comments.
Former Inman economic development director Jessica Hoskinson led off discussion by describing Inman’s experience with having a Dollar General come to town.
“We wanted to be pro-small business, but we had an opportunity,” she said.
Inman spent $36,000 to extend utilities to Dollar General, but Hoskinson said the town has seen a return on its investment through increased sales tax revenue and money earned from a utility upcharge common to all merchants. The store gives the town greater visibility from the highway, and more shoppers stay in town to buy items they formerly would have purchased elsewhere.
She said Dollar General wasn’t viewed as direct competition with a local grocer.
“At Dollar General you can’t buy a fresh-cut steak like you can at the grocery store,” she said.
The local Inman grocer reported a loss of sales between 30 and 40 percent after Dollar General opened, she said.
Next up was Tyler Oliver of Colby Capital Real Estate Development, the firm proposing to build and own the store and lease it to Dollar General for 15 years.
Oliver formally asked the council to move ahead with rezoning the site from agricultural use to business use. In a supporting letter, he said he would like to have the 7,500-ft. store open in July.
“There’s a need in Peabody,” he said. “I’m sure you’re leaking a lot of business to Wal-Mart in Newton. Dollar General isn’t going to eliminate that, but it can help reduce it.”
Council member Rick Reynolds asked if Oliver makes decisions about the layout and content of the store in relation to groceries.
“I’m just the real estate guy,” Oliver said. “There’s a big portion that’s going to be groceries and canned goods and stuff like that that are going to cross over with the grocery store. But their desire is not to be the grocery store, it’s really not. They can both live and work together.”
Oliver said market research affirmed Peabody would support a Dollar General, and stated that if the lot he wants to use isn’t rezoned, he’s not going to abandon the market.
“We can go across the highway,” he said. “There’s going to be a Dollar General in or around Peabody.”
Peabody Market co-owner Mike Crow, added to the agenda at the start of the meeting, suggested a fight to keep Dollar General out could go beyond the city.
“Keep in mind there are other towns that have fought this, and these other towns have won,” Crow said. “It doesn’t end at city council. It could go to the county. We could have the same battle with the county and fight with the county to save the business.”
Crow, a former district manager for Hunt Brothers, drew on past business relationships to emphasize the possible negative impact of Dollar General.
“I’ve seen my friends lose their grocery stores, I’ve seen my friends lose their convenience stores, lose their jobs, I’ve seen them go bankrupt. I just don’t want to be the next victim.”
Crow cited a Kansas State specialist in small town economics as he maintained that Peabody’s population falls below the level necessary to support both stores, and that losing a grocery store can lead to additional losses as families move where they can get groceries.
Crow saved his biggest news for last, announcing that Peabody Market is getting additional inventory and products to compete head-to-head.
“We’ve already put in motion to put everything in our store that Dollar General has,” he said. “We’ve got the square footage so we’re going to pull the trigger.”
Crow said it would take between 30 and 60 days to do a reset of the store to accommodate the new merchandise.
The ball goes back into the court of planning and zoning for the next step, but council member Megan Gallucci was firm in stating her belief that planning and zoning board members needed training. She said they had been promised it for two years but had never received any. Council members agreed that with ongoing development needs, training opportunities should be identified and pursued.