No Chains Wanted in Washington Park

by Daniel Schere | @Daniel_Schere

The quest to ensure a Family Dollar store does not move into Winston-Salem’s historic Washington Park neighborhood has now reached an impasse, with residents opposed to it strongly, the company unwavering in its desire to expand, and city officials unable to get involved.

Family Dollar expressed interest in the property at 2017 S. Broad Street in December, setting off alarm bells in the minds of residents who are concerned about the store leading to increased levels of traffic and crime while taking away from the historic character of the neighborhood.

Family Dollar spokesman Cliff Cermak said they have maintained a dialogue with the Washington Park Neighborhood Association since January and have continued to stay in contact with their president. He wrote in an email that residents do not need to be concerned about either of these issues.

“Our model is different from bigger box retailers,” he wrote. “Our stores are grounded in value and convenience. Research shows that customers will shop at Family Dollar if it’s on their way home, but they won’t usually drive out of their way as they would to shop at a bigger box retailer.”

Cermak added that Family Dollar’s security system helps ensure the store’s safety, which he said is one of the company’s priorities.

Jayne Johnston, who owns Washington Perk & Provisions as well as Swaim’s Grocery on Acadia Avenue, said no chain has ever considered moving into the neighborhood. She and her husband bought their property in 2001 with the goal of creating a neighborhood center for socializing.

“We’re trying to kind of rebuild it and make it more of a community center,” she said. “Before we had Swaim’s there really wasn’t somewhere for people to meet inside of the community other than at somebody’s house or a party or something at a private residence.”

Johnston said she fears that Family Dollar’s presence may lead to additional chain stores coming in. She said it would not be an issue if Family Dollar decided to migrate to nearby Parkway Plaza off of Silas Creek Parkway. She noted that Family Dollar stores are usually located near highways in more commercial districts.

“We have the shopping center just a mile down the road, so any major chain that wants to go somewhere could go there,” she said. “We’re just this little contained community because we’re kind of landlocked with I-40 and the park and School of the Arts on this side and 52, and you know you’ve got Silas Creek on that side too. It’s not like we don’t want them within two miles of us, we have plenty of them two miles from us. Just not in the middle of our historic area.”

One of Johnston’s complaints about adding a chain store is that the owner will be mostly absent from the neighborhood.

“The person that owns it doesn’t even live in Winston- Salem, much less the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s a multitiered corporation. It’s a $9 billion corporation that has no ties to the community. So there’s just no reason for them to be involved.”

That concern is shared by Tim Parker, the owner of the Washington Park Barber Shop. He thinks the lack of an owner’s presence at a business often leads to an increase in crime.

“I have detectives that come in here, I have narcotics officers that come in here, all these people come in here and they all say the same thing, and it’s that there’s a stay at Family Dollar all the time because Dollar General and Family Dollar have had so many problems with drug dealers in the parking lot, shoplifting, people robbing them, people out soliciting money,” he said. “The reason why is the owner’s not there. There’s a manager, but there’s no owner that you can talk to about what’s happening.”

Parker said there were issues with drug dealing and panhandling when a sweepstakes business came into the neighborhood a few years ago but it has since died down””something he attributes to the owners being on-site. He does not think many people, except possibly students from UNCSA, will shop at a Family Dollar.

“Some people will say, I might go there and pick up something small,” he said. “ChapStick or whatever. But for the most part people aren’t going to be shopping there. So I think it’s going to fold and we’re going to be stuck with another empty building that’s not as nice as the one we have.”

The building, which lies at the corner of Acadia and S. Broad, was home to George K. Walker Florist for 24 years up until last year when it relocated to Stratford Road. The property is owned by 20/20 Properties LLC and is worth $565,300, according to the Forsyth County GIS database.

Real estate agent and neighborhood resident Steve Lawing said an attempt was made to sell the property to a local nonprofit but it was too expensive for their needs.

“They’re not waiting in the wings to see what happens with this particular property,” he said of the nonprofit.

Winston-Salem Planning Director Paul Norby said this portion of Acadia is zoned pedestrian business, or PB, meaning buildings must have a 60 feet maximum height and must contain doors and windows that face the street. It is 32,250 square feet total, meaning it does not meet the description of “big box” store, Norby said.

“Big box stores, as we typically know it, are those kinds of stores that you would find on Hanes Mall Boulevard or Peters Creek,” he said. “Those are pretty behemoth in size. They’re like 100,000 or 120,000 square feet in size.”

Residents have asked for a ninemonth moratorium on construction in the neighborhood, but at a city council meeting on Feb. 16, city attorney Angela Carmon said it probably would not be legal. Norby said a temporary moratorium was granted in 2004 when Wal-Mart expressed interest in locations on Reynolda Road and Peters Creek Parkway.

“It was rumored that Wal-Mart was trying to come in to a couple different places and concern that it wasn’t going to fit the context of the area they were in,” he said.

Norby said the moratorium gave staff time to determine what kind of regulations should govern big box stores with regard to size and design. Ultimately the planning board rejected the Reynolda proposal but approved the location on Peters Creek. !