Dollar store under construction in Royalton

A construction crew works on building a new Dollar General, across the parking lot from Aubuchon Ace Hardware on Route 14 in South Royalton, Vt., on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The new retail store, which will be 10,640 square feet, is one of hundreds the Tennessee-based chain plans to open across the country this year. (Valley News - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A construction crew works on building a new Dollar General, across the parking lot from Aubuchon Ace Hardware on Route 14 in South Royalton, Vt., on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The new retail store, which will be 10,640 square feet, is one of hundreds the Tennessee-based chain plans to open across the country this year. (Valley News - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Alex Driehaus

Construction workers add sheets of plywood to the roof of a new Dollar General, across the parking lot from Aubuchon Ace Hardware on Route 14 in South Royalton, Vt., on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Valley News - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Construction workers add sheets of plywood to the roof of a new Dollar General, across the parking lot from Aubuchon Ace Hardware on Route 14 in South Royalton, Vt., on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Valley News - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Alex Driehaus

By HALEY CLOUGH

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 06-13-2024 7:01 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON — With a hill of lush green trees serving as a backdrop, construction of a Dollar General discount chain store is now underway off Route 14.

The skeleton of the 10,640-square-foot retail store is already in place, sitting across the parking lot from an Aubuchon hardware store, north of the South Royalton village.

A soon-to-be Dollar General in town “saves me a trip,” said Mike Barnaby, of Tunbridge, while in the Aubuchon parking lot on Thursday morning. “I won’t have to go to Hanover or West Lebanon. This will be good for people.”

The project has been in the works for several years.

In March 2022, Aubuchon Realty, based in Concord, Mass., completed the $800,000 purchase of the 14-acre parcel from longtime owners Charlie and Kathy Welch. The parcel was already home to the former Welch’s True Value Hardware store, which was renamed when it became part of the Aubuchon Hardware chain.

But the arrival of Dollar General next door hit a snag. The Vermont Natural Resources Board, or NRB for short, determined the application to develop the site was incomplete.

In the permitting process, Act 250, the state’s signature land use law, came into play. The 1970 law was designed to prevent major construction projects from negatively impacting Vermont’s environment or economy.

Citing Act 250, some Royalton residents voiced concerns about the loss of open land in town and argued that a Dollar General store would also hurt locally-owned, small retail businesses.

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Since Royalton doesn’t have a zoning ordinance, however, a grassroots effort to block Dollar General from moving into town had a difficult time gaining traction.

In Royalton, “there’s nothing in the Town Plan that says it’s not an appropriate place for retail,” Town Administrator Victoria Paquin said. “Beyond being invited to an Act 250 (meeting) the town doesn’t have a lot of involvement.”

At an Act 250 public hearing in August 2022, the Two-Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission came out against the project because it didn’t fit with the regional plan, which calls for limiting retail development to villages and areas already built up.

“Some folks locally didn’t want to see proliferation of retail in rural areas,” Peter Gregory, the regional planning organization’s executive director, said in a recent interview.

Rural towns, such as Royalton, is where Dollar General, headquartered in Goodlettsville, Tenn., stakes its claims.

A 2023 report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a national advocacy and research nonprofit, was highly critical of dollar stores, which sell everything from frozen foods to socks.

The three big players — Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar — are “targeting vulnerable communities, opening stores at a breakneck pace in urban and rural areas alike,” the institute wrote.

Dollar General alone plans to open 800 new stores this year, bringing its total number of locations to more than 20,000, the Washington Post reported in March. In the Upper Valley, Dollar General has stores in Canaan, Charlestown, Fairlee, Newport, Randolph, Sunapee and Windsor.

“It’s tempting to assume that these chains simply fill a need in cash-strapped places,” the Institute for Self-Reliance, which was founded in 1974, wrote in its 2023 report. “But the evidence suggests that dollar stores are not merely byproducts of economic distress; they are the cause of it.

“Through predatory tactics, the dollar chains are killing off grocery stores and other local businesses, leaving communities with fewer jobs, diminished access to basic goods, and dimmer prospects for overall well-being.”

A worker at a South Royalton market, who asked that her name not be used, said “a lot of people” are upset about Dollar General moving into town, “but some people need to shop there because of the costs. We can’t compete with that.”

In responding to a Valley News request for comment, a Dollar General spokesman said by email that when the company looks at potential store sites it considers the needs of a community and other businesses in the area.

“We believe the addition of each new store provides positive economic benefits including additional access to affordable products for customers,” the spokesperson said, adding that new stores create jobs for local residents and bring in tax revenue for communities. The spokesperson did not respond to a question about when the new store would open.

Freelancer Haley Clough can be reached at haley.r.clough@gmail.com.