Tuesday, November 21, 2017
News Roundup

San Antonio residents at odds over proposed dollar stores

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SAN ANTONIO — They come in pairs, just like retail pharmacies. You see a Family Dollar, and it seems there's always a Dollar General across the way.

That wasn't supposed to happen here. There's a lot of pride in this small town, a lot of old timers who worry about what might happen when a national chain comes in selling low-priced goods.

But it is happening. The quaint little San Ann is poised to get two dollar stores, on State Road 52 west of Curley Street. And it's forcing residents to take a hard look at the fabric of their community.

"San Ann is a little old-school, country place," said Lowell Osborne, 40, who cuts hair across the street from the empty lot that will soon be Family Dollar. His shop is attached to a bar people still call Ralph's, even though the name changed to San Antonio Liquors and Lounge more than a decade ago.

"We kind of get set in our ways," he said, offering a common lament that the stores "just aren't a good fit for the area."

Added Steve Hedgecock, a resident since 1975: "I always thought San Ann was a place with more mom and pop businesses. It just makes the whole landscape — it's just not what San Ann is about."

• • •

The controversy is complicated. Family Dollar, on the south side of SR 52, has caused more angst largely because it is recessed into the Rosewood neighborhood off the highway. But city officials say the lot is zoned properly and they cannot stop the store.

Dollar General is part of a development up for review Tuesday night at a City Commission meeting. Many people say that project sits on a more agreeable location.

Eddie Herrmann didn't mean to upset his neighbors. He didn't want to cause a stir in the community where his roots are so deep.

His grandfather bought land in San Antonio in the mid '20s. His dad, Joe Herrmann, developed Rosewood along with numerous other businesses. The area was known informally as Herrmannville.

He bought a vacant lot on the highway from his father several decades ago. He offered the land for a new post office, a fire station or a library. Those ideas fell through. After years of paying taxes on an empty lot, he had to develop his investment.

About a year ago someone approached him about putting a store on the lot. The person wouldn't tell him what kind of store. But Herrmann was intrigued by the idea and signed a preliminary contract for sale. When he learned that Rosewood residents were upset, he felt like he couldn't go back on his word.

About a week ago the property legally changed hands.

"I really thought it was something good for the community, not something that would cause dissension," said Herrmann, 75. "I'm still hoping it won't be a problem. I wouldn't want to hurt my friends."

Unfortunately, many Rosewood residents are upset. "We're not saying they can't come to town, but there are much better locations," said Elayne Bassinger.

Don Antoine, 58, lives just across the property line from the Family Dollar site. He doesn't have any hard feelings for Herrmann.

"This is America. Mr. Herrmann owns it, he can do whatever he likes with it," he said. "The Herrmann family is a great family. If I see any Herrmann around town, I'll be very cordial."

Antoine is now pushing to reduce the traffic that comes through the neighborhood. One option, he says, is to block off Orange Road just after the dollar store. Residents don't need that entrance, he said.

Herrmann's daughter Amy Greif is an official at City Hall. Many folks who stop by aren't so cordial. She supports her dad but says she understands people's concerns. She worries about San Antonio's local stores but said it's hard to fight the big chains from moving in.

"Those of us who think we should only be mom and pop have our heads in the sand," she said. But she added a promise: "If I go in that store and I see they're getting a little sloppy, I'm telling them about it."

• • •

Tuesday's meeting will focus on another project just west of Ralph's. The wooded lot is owned by John Nicolette, a developer who ran for County Commission four years ago.

His project is currently slated for six houses with three smaller stores in the front. He needs city approval to remove the homes. That would leave a larger Dollar General and two smaller shops that have yet to be determined.

Nicolette said his project is getting unfairly grouped with the Family Dollar. "It would not even be an issue, I don't believe, if they were not trying to lump me in with something that we have nothing to do with," he said.

Having both stores nearby could reduce traffic snarls as fewer folks cross the highway to get to the shop, he said. One location would catch westbound traffic while the other gets cars headed east.

Nicolette said Dollar General would bring $1.5 million to the town's commercial tax base — not a small sum in this small town. Plus, it would also provide entry level jobs so local kids don't have to drive to Wesley Chapel for work, he said.

Mayor Roy Pierce said he hasn't made up his mind yet on the project, but said many complaints centered on the Rosewood store.

"There's lots of people that don't like any change," he said, noting that many people say they're opposed to national chains. "To the people who say that, I would ask them, 'Do you shop at Walmart? Do you go to the Chevron gas station? Do you go to Domino's Pizza?' "

Pierce added that he visited every dollar store along U.S. 301 from Lacoochee to Zephyrhills. Most stores, especially the newer ones, break the stereotype of a grungy dollar store.

City Commissioner Heiskell Christmas said he is leaning toward supporting the Dollar General, though residents he talked to are split nearly down the middle on the issue.

"If somebody was to go down Michigan Avenue and tear down somebody's house and put up a convenience store, I'd say, 'Nah, that doesn't really work,' " Christmas said.

But this project is different, he said. That stretch of SR 52 has Ralph's — a town institution, sure, but still a bar — along with two gas stations and a tire shop at the corner of Curley Street.

"It's a corridor that's been set up to be a business corridor," he said. "It's kind of fitting with what you want to do."

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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