It would be easy to argue that dollar stores represent the worst of the United States – cheap, throw-away goods and trinkets that all too soon end up in landfills or tossed in an arroyo.
Except, in some Northern New Mexico towns, those stores are now what the old mom-and-pop stores used to be. They carry the basic dry goods and some foods, including milk and first aid supplies, that rural residents would have to otherwise drive a fair distance to buy at a regular grocery store. Absent these stores – corporate owned though they may be – rural residents on tight budgets would have to spend more in gas and time to buy some basics. That’s particularly important in the middle of winter when the ability to get down muddy or icy mountain roads can be tough.
These stores do seem to be taking over. It’s easy to find a dollar store version every couple of miles in Taos and there are potentially more on the way as the story by Cody Hooks and Harrison Blackman in this week’s issue notes.
Those stores may irritate high-minded people who don’t shop there and would like to see Taos officials find ways to foster classier, higher paying jobs and businesses for Taoseños.
So should the town’s leaders and the county, put some kind of moratorium on any more dollar stores? Legally it is unlikely they can do so as long as the stores meet all regulations and obtain permits. Certainly enough public outcry can stop these stores in their tracks, as has happened twice in El Prado.
Perhaps there’s a balance. Instead of just stopping the stores, maybe opponents and supporters could think out of the box about what else these stores might provide in exchange for moving into the neighborhood.
Town and county officials could insist that the parking lots be designed to absorb water instead of just shedding it and causing erosion. This is possible through permeable pavement, helping the water return to groundwater. And more landscaping could be a requirement as well.
Local governments could push for design requirements that go beyond county zoning regulations: handsome store fronts, long-term care for landscaping, night-sky friendly lights that turn off automatically when the store closes.
Customers could start pushing these stores to carry some fresh fruits and vegetables, especially in the winter and early spring when those are hard to find in isolated rural areas.
Dollar stores could step up and commit to other ways they can help communities besides just cheap goods. Could they save a few spots in their parking lots to serve as places for farmers and crafts people to sell their wares? Could they offer college scholarships to local kids? Pitch in funding and pet food to help the local animal rescue and shelter groups? Set up a fund to help victims of domestic violence with some basic goods and cleaning supplies when they are ready to set up a household?
While we are not huge fans of dollar stores, we recognize they do provide a service to our communities, one that no other stores have stepped in to offer.
But let’s push them to be better, more involved neighbors at the corporate level.