In recent years, arguably no section of the retail world has experienced as much success as the dollar store. The trio of major dollar store chains—Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree—have all been expanding dramatically. The number of Dollar Generals, for instance, has doubled in a decade, from roughly 5,000 to over 10,000 locations. Yet even as dollar stores spread beyond their bread-and-butter strip mall locations and into retail centers favored by middle-class and upscale shoppers, there are places where dollar stores are not welcomed.
One such place is Chester, Vermont, as quaint a village as you’ll find in a state renowned for quaintness.
Dollar General already operates more than a dozen stores in Vermont, including one that’s a 10-minute drive from Chester, in Springfield. Springfield is the kind of town where one would expect a dollar store: It’s a down-on-its-luck former manufacturing hub on the river near the New Hampshire border. There are several fast food chains and strip malls in town. For the most part, the only tourists visiting Springfield are just passing through, en route to cuter places
Chester, on the other hand, is a little 3,000-resident village lined with clusters of old Victorian homes and adorable mom-and-pop shops. It’s the kind of town Yankee Magazine recommends as a perfect Christmastime getaway.
Now, Dollar General is trying to open a new location down the street from the town common in lovely Chester, and unsurprisingly, many locals are worried, among other things, that the presence of a dollar store will steal business from the mom-and-pops. The proposed 9,100-square-foot Dollar General is far smaller than a typical supermarket or big-box store, but it would still be the largest retailer in town. Opponents feel like the character and size of the store wouldn’t fit in in Chester, and that it would hurt the village’s quaint appeal, perhaps even sending out-of-state visitors elsewhere to find that quintessentially homey New England experience.
In late March, Shawn Cunningham, one of the leaders battling to preserve Chester’s quaint, mom-and-pop character, had this to say about Dollar General on Vermont Public Radio:
“It’s out of scale, it’s not with the character of the town and we’re concerned about the businesses in town because there are a number of businesses this would compete with unfairly. It’s like asking a bantamweight to crawl into the ring with a heavyweight.”
The New York Times has just taken notice of the squabble, noting that locals fear the arrival of a dollar store could be “the beginning of the end for what might best be described as Chester’s Vermontiness.” Chester’s zoning board has given Dollar General tentative approval to proceed with the store, provided that the chain follows dozens of conditions, including one that the store have a traditional clapboard siding exterior. Appeals are being filed, though, and it’s hardly a done deal that Chester will be home to a dollar store.
As a child, I remember passing through Chester many times en route to visit family in New Hampshire, and ironically, what I remember most was visiting the town’s dollar store. OK, it wasn’t called a dollar store. It was basically an old-fashioned general store, and it was a treat to scope the spectrum of toys and penny candy, though it was probably sold for 5¢ or 10¢ back then.
The Chester Chamber of Commerce doesn’t list any general stores in town, and the Times notes that the Barnard General Store, about an hour’s drive from Chester, is closing this week. At the same time, dollar stores—and Dollar General particularly—are expanding their efforts to sell more groceries, in what’s been called a push for the dollar store to become “the new general store.”
It’s unlikely that Dollar General, or any dollar store, will be selling penny candy. But hey, it’s a good bet the candy won’t cost more than a dollar.