In Joshua Tree, Dollar General still unwelcome
by Brett Kelman
The Desert Sun 6:48 p.m. PST, December 25, 2014
As the High Desert readies to roll into the new year, residents in the quaint, quirky town of Joshua Tree are preparing for a renewed fight in a longstanding legal dispute. For some, the lawsuit over whether to build a dollar store is more than a dispute over the local economy and the local identity. It is a battle for this town’s soul.
For three years, Dynamic Development, a Santa Monica company, has been planning to build a Dollar General on the eastern edge of downtown Joshua Tree, in a bare desert lot at the corner of Highway 62 and Starburst Drive.
Although the store would offer its patrons convenience and low prices, many residents argue that this big box store would threaten Joshua Tree’s colorful, off-beat personality. This is a community where art galleries outnumber stoplights, metal dinosaur sculptures loom over the highway and cowboys mingle with aliens in roadside murals.
“There are not many towns like this left,” said Ryon Weber, owner of Pie for the People, a pizzeria a few blocks west of the Dollar General site. “Would it hurt me if Dollar General came in? No. But is it going to add anything to the community? No. If anything, it will taint what Joshua Tree stands for.
“This town is still a little bit of the Wild West. It is one of those towns that has yet to be overrun and gentrified.”
Joshua Tree, home to about 7,500 people, sits in the High Desert, 30 miles northeast of Desert Hot Springs. The town is a gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, and its economy thrives on spill-over tourism near the park’s west entrance.
As a result, Joshua Tree’s business district is vibrant. Over the past decade, dozens of new businesses — restaurants, clothing stores, art galleries and even a yoga studio — have opened on the town’s downtown strip.
But there is also a noticeable lack of chain stores.
The town has two gas stations, one with a Subway inside, and a Santana’s Mexican restaurant. The rest of the businesses are unique. Many believe that Dollar General would bring that to an end.
In court documents, the residents argue that construction of a Dollar General would encourage the growth of “generic,” “chain-type” stores. These chain stores are already available a few miles to the west, in the neighboring city of Yucca Valley, which has a Walmart, a Big Lots, a Walgreens, a Rite Aid and a Dollar General of its own. Another Dollar General sits in Twentynine Palms, 15 miles to the east.
“How many do they really need?” asked Abe Daniels, owner of Wind Walkers, a Native American art store.
According to Dollar General, the answer is one more, at least.
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More information on the fight: Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance
Donate to the fund to fight Dollar General in Joshua Tree: GoFundMe