Seminole Heights group doesn't want Family Dollar in their neighborhood

08/10/12 Janelle Irwin
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Some residents in a historic Tampa neighborhood don’t want a discount big box store put up in their neighborhood. The No Family Dollar in Seminole Heights group says the area boasts some of the city’s best local businesses and they want to keep it that way.

It’s the kind of community where business owners like Jordan Miller bring their dogs to work because they can. Radar spends most of his time in Miller’s bike shop on Central Avenue in Seminole Heights. A window cling saying “local is the new black” hangs in the window, echoing the sentiment of the group’s beef with Family Dollar in their neighborhood. But Miller said there’s more to their opposition than that.

“Most of them that I hear seem to be, not so much the opposition of Family Dollar as a company and the things that they sell and the customers that they attract because they have customers in this neighborhood. I think there are more Family Dollar customers than people want to admit.”

Instead, Miller is worried about the logistics of having a large store in an area where small business reigns supreme. He’s watched other Family Dollar stores and noted that there tends to be at least one delivery by a pretty big truck each day. That’s something Miller said just won’t work on the portion of Florida Avenue where one-way traffic turns into two-way.

“The trucks are supposed to be on DOT roads – they’re supposed to be on Florida Avenue. Well, I guarantee their deliveries aren’t always going to come on Florida Avenue. They’re going to come up cross streets. That means they’re going to come up Wilder. They’re going to come up Haya which are two residential streets that were never even constructed for that type of traffic.”

But disabled Seminole Heights resident Mauricio Rosas doesn’t mind the idea of having a Family Dollar erected in their neighborhood. He suspects the group opposing the new business is more concerned about the type of customers a discount store could attract.

“We don’t have $100,000, $200,000 people who live in this area in abundance – sure there are, but the majority of people in this general area I believe it’s like $56,000 or so as a medium wage. And when they do say ‘these people’ to me it does say just low income or homeless or whatever. That’s not nice.”

Another problem the ‘No Family Dollar’ group has is that there are enough of the stores in the area already. Their website lists five locations within a two and half mile radius of the proposed new store. But Family Dollar’s Braverman said that is part of the company’s business model where, on average, stores are only a mile and half away from each other generally separated by man-made or natural boundaries.

“A lot of those natural trade boundaries would be things like highways. So it’s my understanding that some of those stores that are within close proximity to this particular location are on the other side of a major highway. So when you think about the convenience that we provide and the communities that we serve, it’s really about being right there where people live.”

And the close proximity of stores caters to some of the store’s target demographic which includes people who don’t drive like disabled resident Rosas. He gets around on foot or on his tricycle with his Black Lab guide dog Rosco. Rosas said the store will be a benefit to him and he doesn’t understand why so many residents are making such a fuss.

“It’ll bring more people from the community. They’ll get to see the other stores that are there – the restaurants. That should be a good thing.”

The building on the 5100 block of Florida Avenue is currently occupied by several small businesses that have been given eviction notices. Family Dollar’s Braverman said the previous property owner handled those tenants, not his company.

“It’s my understanding that the tenants there were given ample notice that was in their lease agreement. None of them were on long-term leases. Most of them were on short-term leases because they knew that the possibility of a sale by the owner of the property was a real possibility.”

Family Dollar opponents still worry those businesses will have a hard time relocating in a struggling economy. But Keith Shaller, CEO of Van Gogh Signs which is one of the businesses moving out wrote in an email:

"I have never had a better business relationship than the one I have with the owners who lease us our space here. They have been nothing but honest and upfront about their intentions."

But company is trying to consider residents’ concerns. Josh Braverman, spokesperson for Family Dollar, said there are over 7,000 stores nationwide and they want to work with the community to make sure the store works in its unique community.

“But we treat every store differently so they’re not cookie cutter stores. We want to work with the community to ensure that it’s something that we can all be proud of and be proud to have in the community.”

And Braverman said efforts are already underway to work with the opposition group who has taken to social network sites to get their message out.

“Well, obviously we are monitoring the Facebook site so folks could post questions there if they like and we could try to answer them there. I know that our real estate teams out in the field are meeting with some of the local leaders and business leaders out in the community so I think the conversations are starting and I think that those answers will start to come out very quickly.”

Seminole Heights business owner Miller said he doubts that will do any good.

“They’re not going to share site plans with the community. They’re not going to do it unless they have to and they’re not going to entertain input where people want to give it. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not cost effective.”

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