|Retailers say Tractor Supply will hurt them|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Mike Anderson|
|Thursday, 20 September 2012 12:48|
Competition in the business world is generally regarded as a good thing, at least from the consumer point of view. But it can be hard on locally owned businesses in small towns that have to go head-to-head against national retailers — especially in today’s tough economy.
That was the message some local business owners gave to the Macclenny City Commission last week as the five-member board discussed a proposed rezoning to pave the way for a new Tractor Supply Co. store in space formerly occupied by Food Lion in the Cornerstone Shopping Center on South 6th Street.
Local merchants said they ordinarily support free enterprise and competition but were concerned, nonetheless, about the potential impact a Tractor Supply outlet would have on their businesses.
“It’s going to greatly, greatly affect the little Mom & Pop stores out here,” Steve Williams, owner of Cycle & Marine Inc. on South Lowder Street, told commissioners at a board meeting on the evening of September 11. “We’re already struggling.”
Mr. Williams said he had just recently heard about the plans and asked whether it was “already a done deal.”
City officials said the proposed rezoning still has to receive final approval, which is scheduled for a second public hearing on the evening of October 9, but that there is no legal reason why the request should not be granted.
Matt Clark, a commercial real estate agent who was involved in the deal between Tractor Supply and the property owner, Yormaco-Cornerstone, LLC, said he viewed competition “as a healthy thing.”
Mr. Williams said he did, too, but asserted that a major retail chain like Tractor Supply would have a negative impact on similar, but much smaller retail operations.
“A big box store is going to hurt them,” he said. “It really is.”
Dean Griffis, owner of the Glen Cash hardware store in Glen St. Mary, said he had always welcomed competition, but not particularly at this time when so many businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.
“This is a difficult economy to be in,” Mr. Griffis said. “We’re all just trying to weather the storm and come out on the other side. I’m not against competition. I’m just concerned about the timing. It couldn’t come at a worse time.”
Tractor Supply has grown to 1,130 stores in 45 states since the company was founded in 1938 — seven years after Glen Cash opened. But Mr. Griffis, who has owned the hardware store for 35 years, said he depends upon the same clientele for his survival that Tractor Supply would try to attract.
Commissioner Vernon Bennett, like other city officials who have lived in Baker County and shopped at local businesses for decades, was clearly conflicted by the issue before him. But he said he had to support the rezoning request.
“It’s something we don’t want to do but we know it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Bennett said, drawing an immediate response from Mr. Griffis.
“We’re not here trying to prohibit those folks from coming in,” Mr. Griffis said. “It’s a sign of the times. But we wanted the board to hear our concerns.”
Mr. Williams, who has owned Cycle & Marine since 1999, didn’t come right out and ask city commissioners to reject the rezoning request. But he said he was “against it.”
“Tractor Supply has been known to drop prices below cost to get products out of the store,” Mr. Williams said. “I can’t afford to do that.”
Commissioners expressed sympathy for local merchants who might see a drop in business after Tractor Supply comes to town. But they all agreed that they have no choice but to approve the rezoning.
“I don’t see how we can turn them down,” Commissioner Tommy Johns said.
On a positive note, Mr. Johns said Glen Cash and Cycle & Marine probably sell products and services that Tractor Supply does not and that Tractor Supply might refer customers to them.
Commissioner Phil Rhoden said nobody wants to see any businesses get hurt, but on the other hand Tractor Supply would be good for the local business community as a whole and, in particular, for other stores in the Cornerstone Shopping Center.
“Looking at it from a government standpoint we have to be consistent with how we treat everybody,” Mr. Rhoden said. “I’m hoping everybody survives. Smaller shops want an anchor store to help their businesses.”
City Manager Gerald Dopson said he had received phone calls from business people expressing concerns about the Tractor Supply plans, too, similar to fears aroused years ago by the news that Winn-Dixie was coming to town.
“Several local grocery store owners were concerned but we went forward with what we thought was an attempt to move the city forward,” he said.
Moving ahead with the rezoning for Tractor Supply, the city manager said, also will be good for consumers and will provide local jobs, adding that the empty building vacated by Food Lion is “going to be improved tremendously.”
“We’re trying to promote free enterprise and offer as many opportunities for the local consumer as we can,” he said.
Yormaco-Cornerstone, LLC., a company based in California, has submitted a petition to rezone 8.6 acres at the northwest corner of Willis Hodges Road and South 6th Street from Commercial General to Planned Unit Development, or PUD.
Renovation plans include 25,118 square feet of space inside the building, which is about 62 percent of the available space left vacant by the departure of Food Lion early this year, and an additional fenced display area encompassing 15,000 square feet of space alongside a 3,000-square-foot display area for trailers and equipment close to 6th Street.
Roger Yarborough, the city’s building and zoning director, said the outdoor display area is what triggered the requirement for a PUD zoning, which is a more flexible type of zoning that gives the city more control over development restrictions. Outside storage areas are not permitted in districts zoned Commercial General.
“A PUD zoning gives the city a lot of say-so in what goes there,” Mayor Gary Dopson said.
City requirements will include an opaque fence 10 feet high to be erected behind the building, where deliveries will be made from Willis Hodges Road, to provide a visual buffer between the store and nearby residences.
New landscaping also is part of the zoning plan, not just in front of Tractor Supply but throughout the shopping center, officials said.
“This is a great opportunity for the city as well as the shopping center. We want to beautify it,” said Chris Weaver, the owner’s agent with Weaver Realty Group in Jacksonville.
Having a major store like Tractor Supply in the shopping center may help attract other tenants in the future, Mr. Yarborough said, adding that in the past few years Weaver Realty has brought Sam’s Crystal River Seafood and Goody’s clothing store to the center.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 20 September 2012 13:20|