Grand Marais takes a stand against chain stores and wins, for now

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It was named America's "Coolest Small Town" last year, and residents of Grand Marais are determined to make sure it stays that way.

This month has seen an uprising among locals against the arrival of national chains to the popular North Shore city, after plans were mooted to open a Dollar General Store on land along its main road, Highway 61.

KBJR reports Grand Marais city council put a temporary, 12-month moratorium on all commercial development of more than 5,000 square feet after pushback from residents who fear chain stores could ruin the city's distinctive charm.

Rumors of the store's arrival prompted people to crowd into council meetings to make their objections known, while a petition with almost 1,500 signatures made it clear why chainstores are so opposed.

The petition says allowing a Dollar store "sends a message to everyone entering Grand Marais that Grand Marais is just like every other small town in the United States. It's not unique. It's not different. It's not eclectic. It's not independent."

It also expresses fears that allowing Dollar would "open the floodgates," saying: "First Dollar General, then McDonald's."

"We will no longer be 'The Coolest Small Town in America'...we will be everytown," it says.

The moratorium will give the city a year to study the issue raised by the petitioners who are worried about the impact it could have on the local, independent stores and restaurants which make up the bulk of the Grand Marais business community.

Fears over business impact

Jim Joynes, the third generation owner of Joynes Ben Franklin department store, was among those who spoke up at a recent council meeting, saying Dollar General and other chains are not interested in providing "friendly competition" to local businesses.

"Friendly competition is healthy," he said, according to the Cook County Herald. "Dollar General is not interested in friendly competition; their shareholders want to make money. They target small towns, where stores buying product by the dozens can’t compete with their pricing power of buying in lots of 100,000s."

"The average Dollar General store displaces $1.5 million away from stores already selling the same type of products," he added.

After agreeing the year-long moratorium, Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux told the Star Tribune: "The big concern is that we want to be able to direct development in a way that would best serve our community and best protect the businesses that are already here, as well as encouraging new businesses that would enhance our economy."

A spokesperson for Dollar General Store told the newspaper the company is "respectful of community concerns and thoughtful in store design," saying its new developments are built in a way that reflects "the charm and character" of their surroundings.

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