Family Dollar, go home

Public outcry brings town moratorium

Residents bristled at the prospect of a Family Dollar store coming to Mancos at the Town Board of Trustees meeting last week.

Then, at a special meeting Monday, the town board voted unanimously for a six-month moratorium on commercial businesses more than 5,000 square feet. They'll use the window to investigate the issue in more depth.

"We need time to educate ourselves and our land-use code to determine if large commercial retails stores should be allowed, and where they should go," said clerk/treasurer Heather Alvarez.

Last Wednesday, Mayor Rachael Simbeck asked the audience to raise their hands so the board could gauge public opinion. The count was one in favor, 15 against. In Monday's sequel, 37 raised their hands in opposition. Again, one person supported the idea.

The opponents, all of one mind, nominated David Franks to speak on their behalf last week. Franks worried that a discount retailer and national chain like Family Dollar would dilute both Mancos' support for local businesses and its cherished Western theme. He said the town's land-use code should be oriented toward "keeping the chain atmosphere in check," and feared welcoming a Family Dollar would invite more cookie-cutter retailers.

"I'd rather my neighbor own the businesses (I visit)," he said, to nods of approval from those seated.

Alvarez tried to mollify the crowd, saying Family Dollar had not yet purchased any property and had not submitted business or zoning applications. The only signal of Family Dollar's interest in Mancos is a sign application, which Alvarez returned because it was incomplete. The lot in question, at the northwest intersection of U.S. highways 160 and 184, is zoned "highway business."

Any store is multiple steps away from approval, Alvarez emphasized, later adding that the controversy "came out of the blue" and she was surprised residents had caught wind of it so early.

"Everything will be handled publicly when an attempt is made," she said at Wednesday's meeting.

Aaron Herrmann was the sole supporter of Family Dollar in attendance. He chose not to speak on record before the board, but afterward he explained his point of view. He believes Mancos needs a place to purchase basic necessities beyond what is offered at the Conoco gas station and P&D Grocery. He framed his argument in environmental terms, saying a Family Dollar would cut down the number of car trips to Cortez or Durango. It also would generate more sales tax for the town, he said.

Alvarez agreed that a budget chain like Family Dollar, stocked with plastic wares, is anathema to many locally minded Mancos residents.

"We have a vision, a master plan, for how we want our town to grow and look. I don't know if a (Family Dollar) fits into that vision. That's where the concern comes from," she said.

Trustee Chip Tuthill on Monday suggested an overhaul of the town's land-use code so it better reflects the community's wishes, and also to make it more defined.

"Right now our code is loose," he said. "It is permit-by-right for retail commercial use, and it does not stop any particular business, so we could close that gaping loophole."

Matthew Lauer, owner of Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters, advised the board to "proceed with caution" in preventing businesses from coming to Mancos. He recalled a positive experience when he started Fahrenheit. While Family Dollar "is not the most appealing" business, he warned against passing ordinances that prohibit "people like me and my wife from coming to town and making a living."

Family Dollar has more than 7,000 locations in 44 U.S. states. In 2011, the retailer caused a stir in another small Western Slope town. A group of citizens, outraged about Family Dollar's plans for an 8,000-square-foot store in Ridgway, called for a national boycott.

It didn't work. The store was built.

Last year, Family Dollar ranked 301st on the Fortune 500 list. It earned $388 million in profits on a total revenue of $8.5 billion.

Journal Staff Writer Jim Mimiaga contributed to this story.