Those driving through downtown Denair likely get the feeling that things have been done the same way in the east county town for a long time. Just past the hometown football field, near the intersection of Main Street and Fresno Avenue, lays a dirt lot overgrown with weeds. The seemingly nondescript parcel of land will soon play a large role in determining the town’s future as it prepares to play host to Denair’s first commercial property — Dollar General.
Regarded as a “close knit community” by Denair Municipal Advisory Council president Dennis Findley, Denair boasts a population of just over 4,000 people. Governed in conjunction with the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors as an unincorporated community, the interest of Dollar General in establishing a store in the small town has proved a point of contention between the parties. The County approved the discount retailer’s permit in July and construction plans are slated to be submitted to the County Planning Commission in October, meaning the residents of Denair will soon play host to the store — but it hasn’t come without a fight.
“We have five different markets. The consensus in town is what do we need another grocery store for,” said Findley.
Several months of ongoing discussions left many Denair residents at odds with the County Supervisors as residents felt the Dollar General would not only increase traffic and in turn pose safety concerns for local school children, but also take away from local business. As a town “without a lot of room for commercial growth” the community of Denair is not opposed to more business, but doesn’t see the draw for the corporate store’s interest ,says Findley. However, settling into smaller communities seems to be a trend for Dollar General, which recently established a store in the nearby town of Delhi in March, another unincorporated community that falls under Merced County’s charge. Contrary to Denair’s concerns that the store will detract from the culture of the community, Delhi welcomed the value retailer with open arms.
“There was no controversy whatsoever with the Dollar General coming in. As a matter of fact, the community welcomed it,” said Delhi MAC president Francisca Briones. “Also, as MAC members we’re very happy to see the improvement in our street.”
Delhi’s Dollar General sits at 9840 Stephens St., a main artery of the small town. As part of the store’s agreement with the town, Dollar General provided aesthetic modifications to the property’s landscape when it laid its roots down earlier this year and, according to MAC vice president Juan Peña, it has been a welcomed addition.
“Before Dollar General there were four to five properties that were not very well kept up. There were run down houses, dilapidated places with no sidewalks. It was a very unpleasant site,” said Peña.
The establishment of Dollar General has since brought new life to the community as well as what Pena calls “friendly competition.” Despite the fact that Delhi already has established stores including some Hispanic markets and Liberty Market, the Delhi MAC found that Dollar General only added to an assortment of locations at which Delhi residents could shop.
“As a community our thought was as long as we have competition it’s good,” said Pena. “Some people will always stay loyal to a certain store, so really, bringing in another store will just open the doors for the community members to shop where they want to.”
Customer loyalty has been a topic of conversation in Denair where some residents have pledged allegiance to one of Denair’s established five markets and don’t intend to enter the doors of Dollar General, according to Findley. However, not all residents in Denair find the Dollar General unfavorable. Just ask Denair MAC member Jim Brugger who cast the sole vote in favor of rezoning the property at which Dollar General will build its store.
“I was generally in favor of business expansion, but not necessarily the traffic implications,” explained Brugger.
While no one can anticipate the subsequent impact that the Dollar General will have on Denair’s community and culture, the town still exists in the American free market making it vulnerable to change and competition.
“I know there was some opposition to it, but it’s not proper government to deny this project just because it’s in competition with someone else,” said County Supervisor Jim De Martini at the July rezoning hearing. “Everyone has to compete in a free market.”