The anti-chain gang was out in force at Monday’s meeting of the Peabody planning and zoning board to register myriad ills that would result from allowing a Dollar General store in town.
After about two months of talks with Dollar General representatives, the city council in November annexed 1.3 acres of agricultural land at the east end of 9th St. and bordering US-50 for a local addition to the variety chain’s 12,400 stores.
Peabody Market owners Mike and Jadina Crow were present Monday, along with six others, as the board opened its meeting with the resignation of chairman Rick Reynolds. A recent appointee to city council, Reynolds is no longer eligible to serve on the board.
In his stead, members Linda Martinez and Hope Reynolds traded off facilitating portions of the meeting.
When the meeting was opened up to public comments, N.M. Patton began by alleging that a legally required notice of action and meeting hadn’t been published in the newspaper.
“If Larry (Larsen) hadn’t called, I wouldn’t have known about this,” he said. “I don’t know how you can re-zone it tonight.”
When Rick Reynolds explained that the board was required to adopt zoning for the property matching that of an adjacent property, confusion ensued as to what property that would be.
After poring over maps and bantering back and forth, it was determined the applicable zoning classification was agricultural.
In order for Dollar General to locate there, the board will have to go through the process of re-zoning the property for business, something that will take weeks to complete.
The board decided to go ahead and hear comments from the audience, although they carried no weight in the proceedings.
“When you have a Dollar General come to town, either Dollar General or the grocery store isn’t going to make it,” Patton said.
Patton related research he had done into towns such as Auburn and St. John’s where local grocery stores closed after Dollar General opened stores.
Brent Miles said adding Dollar General wouldn’t improve Peabody’s business climate if Peabody Market were forced to close.
“This really isn’t economic development,” he said. “It’s replacing one business with another.”
Other complaints expressed about Dollar General included an alleged lack of support for community organizations and employing far fewer people that Peabody Market.
While Mike Crow conceded that a Dollar General could draw business away from Peabody Market, he talked about changes he and his wife have already made to make the market more competitive, including lower prices, changing inventory, more product choices, and interior remodeling.
“Dollar General has been fought off before,” Crow said. “We don’t want to run on fear. We’ve decided to run on offense, regardless of what happens.”
But Crow was enthusiastic while describing a plan perhaps two years distant to relocate the market out to the highway as a hybrid 24-hour grocery store combined with gas and diesel pumps that would draw passing customers as well as local.
“I’ve traveled a lot and seen these,” Crow said.
But the plan hinges on securing loans that must be based on at least 18 months of operation, Crow said. Dollar General could make those number less attractive to potential vendors.
Hope Reynolds, noting the overwhelming number of negative comments, said Dollar General representatives should be contacted to provide their perspective.
“I guarantee you no one on the council, nobody is going to talk to Dollar General,” Miles said. “They’ll talk to an attorney, they’ll talk to an architect or developer, but you’re not going to talk to Dollar General corporate. They don’t need you. They’re just going to push and push.”
The issue moves on to city council for its Jan. 30 meeting. A proposal to change the zoning from agricultural to business use will have to be advertised in the paper, discussed at another planning and zoning board meeting, and a recommendation forwarded to the council for final action.