While a recent story about a development firm’s plans to build more Dollar General stores in Wilmington prompted more than 100 comments on Facebook, only about a dozen people attended the developer’s community information meeting on its latest potential project in December.
Such meetings are required by New Hanover County, and depending on the subject matter, they can sometimes get heated.
It’s a common growing-pains story: More commercial businesses are attracted to high-growth areas, while some residents in those areas grow concerned about development and traffic.
A few of the people who attended the recent meeting on a potential Dollar General, which could be built on part of more than 3 acres at 813 and 817 Piner Road, expressed those types of concerns during the Dec. 13 session.
Par 5 Development Group, based in West End near Pinehurst, is planning the store, having developed more than 150 Dollar General stores across the U.S., including in Wilmington.
Sandra Maultsby, an area resident who attended Par 5’s meeting Dec. 13, said to Par 5 officials, “The traffic on that road is horrible. We have three churches and two schools. The road is 1 mile long. Getting here tonight is an ordeal. You have traffic coming from everywhere using Piner Road and the southern end of the county.”
The Par 5 officials said the project would have to abide by DOT rules, and studies have shown the store would add very little to the traffic already using the thoroughfare.
The intent of the store is to capture some of that existing traffic, customers who might not want to drive farther for grocery items such as toilet paper and soup.
“Let’s say that someone’s coming down Piner Road to go to Walmart for $30 worth of items. Instead of going to Walmart, they can get more conveniently there [to the Dollar General], turn around and go back to their home,” said Richard Vincent, a Par 5 representative, to those gathered in a meeting room at the Wilmington Moose Lodge No. 343 on Carolina Beach Road.
Billie Jean Millard, another area resident who attended Par 5’s meeting, said she would shop there.
“I’d love to have a more convenient place to by bread or whatever,” she said.
But traffic is her concern too.
“For me personally, if the traffic problem was addressed I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but it’s extremely dangerous right now,” Millard said.
Wilmington attorney Matthew Nichols, representing Par 5 said, “If you know of anyone who could not make it here tonight, your neighbors, we’re glad to meet with them at their convenience where they would like to meet, and I’m extending that invitation to you if you’d like a second meeting or if you have neighbors that couldn’t be here and would like to meet.”
Explaining the purpose of the meeting, Nichols said, “What we are proposing is to file a rezoning application for the property to rezone what I’ll call the front part, to business, what the county calls B-1. And then in the back, we would rezone that to a general residential, R-15, which is much of what the surrounding area is.”
Vincent told the group that his company has built more than 150 Dollar General stores.
“Dollar General’s been in business for almost 80 years now. They have 15,000 stores across the country. Wilmington has a special place in Dollar General’s heart; they actually built their 15,000th store here in Wilmington, which was a landmark event,” Vincent said.
The company’s CEO, Todd Vasos, is a Wilmington native and Hoggard High School graduate.
The 9,100-square-foot store on Piner Road would come with six to eight jobs and involve a construction investment of more than $1.5 million for what Vincent called a brick upgrade Dollar General store, with a brick facade. It would be much like the store Par 5 built at 3606 Carolina Beach Road in Wilmington, Vincent explained.
“It’s a very important relationship for us, not only on the development side, but construction as well,” Vincent said of his company’s work with Dollar General. “Every year, we do several construction upfits with Dollar General; sometimes they’re in South Carolina, sometimes in northern Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia, but it’s a relationship that we take very seriously and it’s almost a 10-year relationship.”
He said the developers come across people who don’t know exactly what a Dollar General really is.
“There’s a huge misconception out there that we’re continually fighting that Dollar General is a dollar store.
Dollar General is not a dollar store. Dollar Tree is a dollar store that sells a $1- priced item. … Dollar General is a discount grocer … They sell a lot of what Walmart sells; it’s just in a small-box format,” Vincent said, using the term “small-box” to explain the fact that the 9,100-square foot store Par 5 is proposing is much smaller than a “big-box” retailer like Walmart.
The Monkey Junction Walmart, for example, is more than 200,000 square feet, according to New Hanover County tax records.
Over the years, Dollar General has capitalized on convenience and discounts. A Wall Street Journal story last year stated that the chain has grown to be one of the most profitable retailers in the U.S. and “a lifeline for lower-income customers bypassed by other major chains.”
When residents asked about the need for another store when Wilmington has other Dollar General locations, Vincent explained that one of the reasons the chain is seeking to build more stores in Wilmington is that existing stores have done so well.
There are 18 Dollar General stores in Wilmington and within 20 miles, according to Dollar General’s store locator web page.
Asked at the Wilmington meeting about whether Dollar General would consider offering fresh produce at its stores, Vincent said it could happen in the future.
“We’re asked that question almost on a daily basis,” he said.
He said Dollar General took over 200 Walmart Neighborhood Market stores across the country in recent years, and those have some grocery components in the store such as fresh produce and meat.
“At some point, it’s probably likely as they expand and continue to change with the times, but this particular store will not [have fresh produce]. What you will see is that the new formats [of Dollar General stores] have a lot more refrigerated coolers. You’ll see coolers on an entire wall with milk, butter, eggs, cheese.”
Asked about the timing of Par 5’s rezoning application, Nichols said it could be on the New Hanover County Planning Board’s agenda as early as February, which would place it on a New Hanover County Board of Commissioners agenda sometime in the spring.