Joshua Tree, California wins a key court battle against corporate predator, Dollar General.
Joshua Tree, California, a small, unincorporated desert community and the Gateway to Joshua Tree National park, is engaged in a nearly three-year struggle to preserve its unique community character, and so far it’s winning. Small, local business owners and residents in Joshua Tree, 150 miles east of Los Angeles, won a key court fight against San Bernardino County and discount retailer Dollar General, which wants to build an outlet in the iconic tourist village. The store would be the fourth Dollar General serving the community of about 8,000 and surrounding towns, in addition to a Walmart Supercenter only four short miles from downtown Joshua Tree.
“Tourists, campers, rock climbers, bird watchers, artists–they all come to Joshua Tree National Park to get away, and they stay, eat and shop in the town of Joshua Tree because we offer something different, something charming and authentic that they cannot find in most cookie cutter towns around here ” said Celeste Doyle of the Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance (JTDBA), which brought the suit. “Our local economy and tourism appeal depend on our unique character.”
San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald R. Alvarez agreed the store could put the town’s economy at risk. Judge Alvarez recently ordered the County to conduct an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to determine whether business and property owners would suffer economic harm from the proposed 9,100 square foot formula retail chain store. Dollar General, a $17.5 billion public company with 11,000 stores in 40 states, will pay for the EIR.
“This is a national issue,” said Linda Perry, owner of Joshua Tree Health Foods. “Independent businesses are an endangered species throughout the country. We provide good jobs at higher pay than chain stores, and our profits stay in the community. Dollar General’s profits go straight to their headquarters in Tennessee.” The Dollar General store would directly compete with a number of local stores and could put them out of businesses, resulting in lost jobs, boarded-up storefronts and urban blight.
There is a growing awareness nationally that formula (chain) retail stores are destructive to local economies and communities by siphoning profits to distant corporate headquarters. Stores like Dollar General have been met with fierce resistance in many communities, both rural and urban. As in Joshua Tree, opponents point to the fact that there is no shortage of discount retailers in the area, and their high concentration severely hampers the chances for more diversified independent businesses to succeed.
Residents, business and property owners who have moved to Joshua Tree and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovating the downtown feel that the establishment of a large chain retail store in downtown Joshua Tree will open the floodgates to other formula retail development and undermine what they have built: a unique desert community and economy that makes locals and visitors feel welcome and at home.
“This is about growing a healthy, local economy,” said Scott Cutler, owner of Sacred Sands B&B. “Ten years ago a few visionary business owners invested here, renovating existing buildings, and others followed.” Today, downtown Joshua Tree is an eclectic mix of independently owned restaurants, galleries, outfitters, vintage clothing stores, and a weekly farmers market. “The recession was tough, but the local businesses survived and now downtown is thriving,” said Scott’s partner, Steve Pratt. “But bad development drives out good, and Dollar General is bad development.”
Mindy Kaufman, owner of Spin and Margie’s Desert Hide-A-Way, notes that Joshua Tree is a short drive from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas, making it an ideal escape from urban life. According to a USGS Economic study, visitors to Joshua Tree National Park added nearly $63 million to local economies. According to National Park data, more visitors enter Joshua Tree National Park through the Joshua Tree entrance than through any other Park entrance.
“The towns around Joshua Tree have two each of Rite-Aids, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and Dollar General stores, as well as a Walmart Supercenter, and nearly every fast food option you can imagine,” said Thomas Fjallstam, President of the Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce. “There is only one downtown Joshua Tree with its unique independent artistic character. People looking for something different, to get away from all that, come to Joshua Tree.”
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Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance
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View or download: JTDBA- Writ and Judgment _0085 (pdf)