EDITORIAL: A Dollar Store for your thoughts

HOWDY, NEIGHBOR. You can take your low-cost merchandise, food, apparel, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and cleaning supplies and move on. Germantown isn’t big enough for both of us.

That kind of sums of the public reception that’s greeted Primax, the company proposing to build a 9,000-square-foot store on Route 9G in the hamlet. Primax would lease the building to the Dollar General company. Most recently a few dozen residents tuned out at Town Hall December 3 for a gathering arranged by the town Planning Board. It gave members of the public a chance to interrogate a Primax representative and to express their displeasure at having a store of this type in the center of their community.Until the recent merger of two of its smaller competitors, Dollar General was the Walmart of dollar stores. The company says it now has over 12,300 of these general merchandise retail stores in 43 states from Colorado to Maine. It’s a multi-billion-dollar business.

So why Germantown, which has only 1,954 of the roughly 63,000 people who live in Columbia County? Successful companies like Dollar General don’t share the details of their business strategies but looking at the map of Dollar General store locations in this region, many of them are on the other side of the Hudson River. There is also a Dollar General in Greenport near the Hudson city limits but the next one headed due south is in the Poughkeepsie suburb of Hyde Park.

That leaves southwestern Columbia County and the whole Red Hook-Rhinebeck metroplex in northwest Dutchess County with no ready access to the Dollar General shopping experience. And, no offense intended, Dutchess County is a much higher rent address than Germantown, where costs are much lower. Combine that with the demographics of Germantown, which is older and slightly poorer than Columbia County as a whole, plus the nearby school and the facilities operated by Taconic and you can imagine how Germantown could meet the requirements for a Dollar General community. Or maybe someone at Dollar General just likes Germantown, with its spectacular views of the Hudson and the dramatic front wall of the Catskill Mountains.

What matters in this case is not strategy but whether the building and its tenant will be able to comply with town law. Apparently they can; the five-acre site where the company wants to build is zoned for commercial development. And that designation is consistent with good planning and common sense, which both suggest that the most appropriate place for new commercial projects is close to existing businesses.

Regardless of the reasons why some Germantown residents express dismay at the prospect of having a Dollar General store, it sends the wrong message if the community seeks to reject the store based on assumptions about who shops there and why. This is a company that sells people things they want to buy. It will pay taxes and employ a handful of local residents. It is not, as far as the record indicates, asking for or receiving any special treatment. If there is some reason to believe that Dollar General will not be a good corporate citizen and neighbor, it has not yet been raised.

But this is no call for residents to abandon practical concerns as the plan moves through the approval process. Those who dislike aspects of the plan should mount an effort to reconcile the requirements of Dollar General with changes designed to reduce specific impacts of the Primax plan. Among the most obvious issues is placement of the building on the site to preserve as much of the view westward as possible.

A few years ago opponents of the Hannaford’s supermarket near Valatie convinced that company to turn its building 90 degrees, a change that diminished the visual impact of the structure. It was a huge improvement that has not affected traffic at the market.

Other factors that need close scrutiny include light pollution, placement and size of signs and environmental concerns like runoff, which is important with a project so close to the river. Planners are aware of these and other issues and have indicated that they will carefully review the Primax/Dollar General proposal. Documents related to the proposal are available at www.germantownny.org.

While that’s reassuring, it’s no substitute for continued vigilance by concerned citizens. But hostility won’t improve this project. Real change can only be accomplished through knowledge of the laws, good ideas for improvements, persistence and a willingness to compromise to make this store as compatible as possible with the character of the town.

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