After pushback from locals, Alpine City Council stalls approval of new Dollar General

"By appearances, it seems as if you’re choosing big business money over quality of life for the citizens of Alpine that trust you as their representatives.”

ALPINE — At the most recent Alpine City Council meeting, so many incensed locals signed up to register their disapproval of yet another dollar store coming to town that council was forced to seek out a larger venue. The meetings usually take place in the city council chamber, which can only accommodate roughly 64 attendees — in this case, said Mayor Catherine Eaves, the city had to plan for a larger crowd.

“We had to move to the Civic Center — we had, I would estimate, over 100 people there, and we couldn’t all fit in the city council chamber,” said Eaves.

Having gotten word that Dollar General planned on opening a third location in Alpine (there is also a Family Dollar in town), locals lined up to voice their concerns about the behemoth’s increased presence in the city of 6,000, which just lost one of its grocery stores. To give the store the green light, argued one local, would be to choose monetary gain over the well-being of citizens.

“We understand that you’re concerned about revenue coming into our town, but at what cost?” said Andy Covington, noting her home is 48 feet behind the property in question. “Sacrificing citizens’ housing values, the safety of our children riding their bikes up and down that street, quality of life in our neighborhoods — by appearances, it seems as if you’re choosing big business money over quality of life for the citizens of Alpine that trust you as their representatives.”

Ultimately, the peoples’ voices were heard — council did not take any action on a replat being sought by the company that would have allowed for the consolidation of 10 parcels into one, paving the way for the store’s construction. “Council decided to listen to what the residents had to say,” Eaves told The Big Bend Sentinel, noting the city’s zoning and planning commission had already recommended that council deny Dollar General’s request.

It remains to be seen whether such a setback will deter Dollar General altogether. “They have to have a plan approved,” said Alpine City Attorney Rod Ponton. “The ball’s in their court.” In an unsigned email from “DG Public Relations,” a representative for the company indicated the plan was moving forward, noting they were “currently finalizing our due diligence phase” for the location.

The ball was set in motion months ago, explained Ponton, when Dollar General bought the property at 1911 N State Hwy 118 — which was outside city limits — and requested that the land be annexed into the city. The annexation was not required for the construction of the store, Ponton explained at the recent city council meeting, but without it, city building codes would not have applied, and Alpine would not have received any property or sales tax revenue from the business. Council voted to approve the annexation.

Though there was some confusion as to the necessity of that decision — Mayor Eaves said she had been given the impression by Ponton that the annexation was legally required, which Ponton said he did not recall — it was ultimately agreed that the city had acted in its best interest, considering it did not have the power to stop the dollar store altogether. After all, said Ponton, the company could have built its new store on county land.

“So we did the best we could?” said Mayor Eaves. Ponton believed so. The city can only annex land at the request of the owner, he noted, so opportunities to do so are limited.

“To me, it’s wonderful for the city for someone to request to come in, because that’s going to bring us more benefit,” he said. “These islands in the county are taking advantage of the city because they’re really getting city services.”

Of course, as the meeting’s robust turnout indicated, many locals do not find it to be wonderful. Concerns about bright lights, garbage, increased traffic (and accompanying safety concerns), and the scarcity of real grocery stores were all cited as reasons for their resistance.

“I want to oppose this because I like my darkness, I don’t want the lights, I don’t want the trash, I don’t want all the traffic, I don’t want all the people that don’t need to be there,” said John Simpson, who said he lives across from the site, on the other side of 118.

Another resident, Karla Tomanka, noted the potential ramifications of the growing presence of dollar stores for Alpine as a whole — the proliferation of dollar stores in rural and low-income areas has been linked to the pushing out of other businesses, including traditional grocery stores, adding to already-existing problems of inequity. More consumers have been shopping at dollar stores to cope with the strain of inflation.

“We need other healthy food options in our town,” said Tomanka, who cited a nonprofit study on the issue. “When dollar stores saturate a community’s grocery market, full service food stores are actually deterred from opening, existing grocers are pushed out.”

“This will be the fourth dollar store,” she continued. “I can’t imagine what will happen to the remaining Porters and Blue Water if that were to happen.”

Alpine resident Dani Bell has launched a petition to protest the opening of a new Dollar General. As of press time, it had 103 signatures. 

“There are more Dollar Generals in our country right now than there are McDonalds and Starbucks combined, and they are predatory when it comes to low income areas, food deserts such as ours, and rural communities as a whole,” said Bell. She said she has been in touch with a Dollar General representative who seems receptive to the community’s concerns. Eaves said it remains to be seen if a representative will come to address concerns at a public meeting.

The email from Dollar General Public Relations provided a lengthy rebuttal of community concerns. The company aims to provide affordable, nutritious options where they otherwise might not be available, it said. “We seek to provide affordable accessibility, often in communities where other retailers either cannot or have chosen not to serve.” It further said that Dollar General strives to be a good neighbor by providing community grants in addition to jobs and opportunities.