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Businesses and Residents React to Proposed Dollar General in the Village

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The proposed Dollar General store in Grass Lake has people talking. They’re talking on the street, in the restaurants and they are expressing their feelings on Facebook. It reminds me a little bit of the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail” where struggling boutique bookseller Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) battles the big bad chain store, Fox Books. My wife Karla loves that movie so I may have seen it a few (hundred) times.

Dollar General submitted their initial site plan to the Village of Grass Lake for review by the planning commission. The Village Planning Commission was initially scheduled to review the site plan at their meeting on August 11th. That meeting has been postponed because of scheduling conflicts with the Planning Commission members. Since their initial submission, Village Manager and Zoning Administrator Tom Nolte replied back to the developers informing them of some deficiencies in their original application that need to be addressed prior to it being reviewed by the planning commission. That is not an uncommon process.

Facebook commenters on The Grass Lake Open Forum and the Grass Lake Times were pretty vocal about their disproval of the proposed store. I didn’t hear anyone outside chanting “One, two, three, four! We don’t want your superstore! Five, six, seven, eight! Go away and close the gate! One, two, three, four! We don’t want this superstore.” as they did in the movie, however that was the spirit of most commenters. “Not good, it will take away from local business” typed Jamie. “Just like Walmart runs out smaller business in cities, this will be devastating to local small businesses.” typed Jerry. “We won’t be shopping there. I’ll keep supporting the local businesses.” said Emily.

A Facebook petition opposing Dollar General was created. It’s named Citizens opposed to Dollar General in Grass Lake Michigan.

The majority of the discussions revolved around 3 key points:

1) Protecting the local businesses

2) The clientele of Dollar General

3) The longevity/success of Dollar General

I spoke separately with several local businesses to discuss their thoughts on potential impact of a Dollar General; Frank Bednarski and Loree Jones of Franks Shop-Rite, Todd Raetz, owner of Grass Lake Community Pharmacy and Sharon Coppernoll of Coppernoll Hardware.

The responses were not quite in line with the online commenters. Todd Raetz, also President of The Grass Lake Chamber of Commerce, responded that while Dollar General would “more than likely affect our business”, the impact would be minimal. “Dollar General would not have a lot of overlapping products”. “While buying local products from local owners is the best scenario, buying local products from non-local owners is the next best thing.” Sharon Coppernoll also “doesn’t see it affecting us a lot.” “Shouldn’t have a profound affect in sales”. “We are a hardware store, they are not.” From what she understands, they are “heavy into impulse items and imports” while Coppernoll Hardware is not. “Our big sales are in electrical, plumbing and repair”. She “has been expecting it for years.” Bednarski said his customers will continue to come, “they come for the service”. Frank Bednarski indicated he felt “it’s not gonna affect us.” In similar comments as Coppernoll, he indicated “They are not a grocery store”. The proposed store “will have 9000 (9,100) sq ft of space, we have between 33k and 34k sq ft”

The business owners shared a similar sentiment. “It is nice to see strong feelings, positive comments and defending us” said Coppernoll. However, Raetz asked “what are they protecting us from?” He continued “Our community doesn’t shop exclusively in Grass Lake. They take a lot of money out of Grass Lake.” Coppernoll echoed the sentiment that some of the people wanting to protect Grass Lake are not necessarily supporting the local businesses in Grass Lake with their dollars. “Our customers are our customers.” We know most of our customers by name. Many are here every week or every other week. All three businesses echoed the same sentiment “Our customers are great and they support us week in and week out.

Bednarski ended with “For good or for bad, we’ll just see how it goes”. As Raetz was wrapping up our conversation to attend to customers, he said “more conveniences simply make Grass Lake a better community. Each small investment into the community creates such a profound effect.”

So maybe Dollar General won’t end up like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, “I wanted it to be you”, perhaps it has a spot within the community after all. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out in the coming weeks.

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