Development

Ranchos de Taos reactions mixed to proposed Family Dollar store on Paseo del Pueblo Sur

What's in store for a Ranchos dollar store?

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Taos could soon see another dollar store along Paseo del Pueblo Sur.

A Texas-based developer is proposing to build a roughly 8,000 square-foot Family Dollar in Ranchos de Taos on 1.2 acres where the Taos RV Park is now. The store would be on the west side of Paseo del Pueblo Sur just north of the intersection with State Road 518 - located across the street and less than half a mile away from its competitor, Dollar General.

If approved, it would be the fourth dollar store along Paseo del Pueblo Sur. The Family Dollar application for a special-use permit isn't complete and a hearing before the Taos County Planning Commission hasn't been scheduled.

Yet residents have greeted murmurs of the project with a mix of approval, aversion and apathy, according to David Maes, president of the Ranchos Neighborhood Association.

"When I bring it up, the first three words I hear are: ‘Another dollar store'," Maes said.

The dollar store landscape has gotten a bit more crowded in recent years.

Family Dollar has a store in the Albertson's shopping center as well as stores in both Questa and Peñasco. In addition to the Ranchos de Taos' Dollar General, a Dollar Tree was built in the town of Taos across from Walgreen's in 2015. There are also Family Dollar stores in Angel Fire, Velarde and Española.

Alabama-based construction firm Triple C Development initiated the proposed Family Dollar in Ranchos. Their share in the project was bought out by another out-of-state company, 7B Building and Development, according to 7B CEO Chad Merchant, whose business is based in Lubbock, Texas.

Merchant told The Taos News he's built nearly 300 dollar stores across the country, mostly for the Family Dollar brand. He used to build them for other developers, but broke out on his own in 2008. Since then, 7B has built about 50 dollar stores, which are geared toward low- and middle-income people. Merchant's company built the Family Dollar in Angle Fire.

Developing dollar stores at the behest of the company has proven to be "steady" business even during the Great Recession, he said.

Merchant said it was Family Dollar that identified Ranchos de Taos as a potential location. "Family Dollar is the one that put us [there]. We're a developer for them and that's where we go work," he said.

A Family Dollar representative could not be reached for comment. However, according to their website, the company has an "aggressive store opening strategy."

"Family Dollar ... specialize[s] in speedy site approvals, fast completion of leases, timely construction completion and a 10-day time frame to fully fixture, merchandise and open each new store," the website states.

Not only does Family Dollar open a lot of stores, but they regularly open them in close proximity to their rivals if not directly across the road from each other, Merchant said. One of his projects in Colorado is literally a stone's throw from another dollar store, he said.

"It's competition," Merchant said.

Yet the competitive, capitalist dynamics of dollar stores in Taos is less varied than one might expect.

For one, Family Dollar stores aren't locally-owned franchises, like a McDonald's or Subway might be. The Family Dollar corporation owns all of it stores and either owns or leases the land.

Secondly, most dollar stores in Taos County are owned by the same company. Dollar Tree bought out Family Dollar in a $8.5 billion merger in 2015. Of the county's five dollar stores, only one is a Dollar General.

Locals react

While plenty of people have vitriolic reactions to dollar stores and the quality of their groceries and products, it's clear that customers frequent dollar stores in Taos.

In an unscientific online poll at taosnews.com, 134 respondents said they shop at a dollar store a couple of times a month, 76 said they shop at one about once a week and 150 said they go to a dollar store more than once a week. (As of July 15, 37 percent of 857 total respondents said they never shop at one).

Several customers of the Ranchos Dollar General recently told The Taos News that it is convenience - more than prices - that drives them to shop at dollar stores.

One customer said she shops there three times a week mostly for "last-minute dinner food and cleaning stuff." Another customer said that despite his belief that dollar stores "are basically a plague," he still buys dog food there because of the location.

"I'd rather go to the Dollar General than Walmart," said Ranchos resident Cynthia Patterson.

Some neighbors said that they'd prefer to see a natural, locally-owned grocery store - á la Arroyo Seco's Sol Foods or the Dixon Cooperative Market. But they acknowledge those types of stores are harder to make work financially, especially in a cash-strapped community.

"In this day in age, without the corporate supply chain behind it, your prices can't be that low," said Patterson.

Maes also has a tempered take on the possibility of a dollar store coming into the area. "If the dollar store is architecturally compatible and attractive, I don't see it as an egregious assertion into our historic little community here. The four-story hotel is a mortal sin. This is more of a venial sin."

As a matter of aesthetics, Balthazar Reed, a former owner of an independent general store, said the store would just be "a plaster facade and false portal with a steel building behind it."

He also called the prospect of another dollar store in Ranchos both sad and predatory. The company has "the resources to lawyer up and do what they want," he said.

Despite the mix of reactions, traffic is no doubt the neighbors' biggest concern about the proposed store going into the RV park location.

Several Ranchos residents said traffic is already too congested near the intersection of State Roads 68 and 518. If the store is built and approved, north-bound drivers trying to make a left-hand turn into the store would be dicey at best and irresponsible at worst.

"The mayhem at 5 in the afternoon is perilous to say the least," said Reed, who lives behind the RV park.

"For me, it boils down to the traffic situation. There's not enough room," said Hank Saxe.

Neighbors also doubt much will be done to improve the flow of traffic in Ranchos during the much-hyped, multi-million dollar renovations to Paseo del Pueblo, a state highway. Furthermore, they worry that if and when more businesses try to locate in the clogged corridor, the traffic problem could be irreversibly compounded in the years and decades to come.

Next steps

Still, the project has several hurdles to surmount before construction could begin.

The 2.25-acre RV Park is listed on New Mexico Mountain Properties for $350,000. Paula Verona Madappa, broker and owner of the real estate company, told The Taos News the sale hasn't closed. One acre and the home that sits on the property are not part of the current deal, she said.

And the project has to clinch county approval. Unlike in the town of Taos - where Dollar Tree was able to develop their store simply by meeting town code and architectural standards - the Family Dollar will have to go through the Taos County's protracted special use permitting process.

Alex Abeyta, the engineer spearheading the application, said he expects it'll take another month before the application is deemed complete and another two months before the planning commission can review it.

It's that process that is perhaps the biggest unknown in the future of the store.

Abeyta was the engineer for a Tennessee company behind two Family Dollar stores proposals in El Prado. An effort to put one near the Overland Ranch Complex was defeated in 2011; plans to build one near Elevation Coffee were killed two years later.

"I can't ever predict the outcome," Abeyta said.

Just how much opposition can sway the future of a dollar store project "depends on the city's temperature," said Merchant, who said he's lost deals before due to local opposition.

Merchant's company is also planning to submit a formal proposal for a Family Dollar in El Prado in the coming months.

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