New businesses are typically welcomed to the community– but not the Dollar General in the tiny Village of Cormorant
Dollar “General” is an ironically fitting name, as far as folks around the village of Cormorant are concerned.
With the brick and mortar rising atop a rural, countryside knoll–it’s as if General George Armstrong Custer himself decided to plop a frontier military outpost in the Little Big Horn outback.
As for the Cormorant natives… well…they’re similarly restless.
Locating a major retail operation down the road apiece from a village with a residential population of 11 (seven in the winter), is sort of like building a Macy’s Department Store up in the Yukon.
At least, that’s the way locals are reacting to the new Dollar General store, just north of a 40 acre parcel of federal wildlife management land full of ducks and geese and critters–and surrounded on two sides by plowed farm fields.
“We’re just a small village,” said Cormorant Township Supervisor Steve Sorenson. “This was just not a good fit.”
The few businesses in the immediate Cormorant area are “privately owned, and the owners work the businesses themselves,” said Sorenson. A national box store just didn’t make sense, contend many of Sorenson’s constituents.
Of course, it’s difficult to stop progress. And restraining trade isn’t exactly the American Way of free enterprise.
That’s evidently how some of the higher powers in Becker County viewed the issue. The county’s planning commission, on a split vote last winter, gave its blessing to the Dollar General project. When it came to a vote by the full county board, the approval passed by a 4-1 margin–with the county commissioner representing Cormorant the lone “no” vote.
The three member Cormorant town board, along with a handful of concerned Cormorant area citizens, attended all of the county hearings and meetings last winter at the Detroit Lakes county seat.
Area residents even gathered up a petition with 400 names, which was presented to Becker County officials. While the population in the “village of Cormorant” itself is under a dozen souls–the full township’s year round population is about 1,000, according to the 2010 census.
In the summer, it’s a totally different complexion.
Centrally located in the heart of the Pelican Lake and Cormorant chain of lakes, the population of the market area explodes. There are more than 1,000 developed parcels around Pelican Lake, and on a July 4th weekend those lake places are fully occupied. Even at a conservative estimate of three bodies per structure, the Pelican Lake neighborhood alone numbers upwards of 3,000 lake folks on a warm summer weekend. And that doesn’t include thousands more around the Cormorants.
Somebody in the market research department of Dollar General must have figured this out. If you were locating a national retail store dependent on high sales volume; deploying conventional population and demographic data–Cormorant is not a dot you’d pick on the map.
“If you drive by in August, you think ‘wow, there’s a lot of people out here’,” said Sorenson. “In January, you may have one car on that county road all day.”
Because of the grassroots nature of township government, the Cormorant town board had no regulatory or planning-zoning control over the decision.
As a local public official, town boardsman Sorenson in no way encourages, endorses, advocates or condones public shunning of Dollar General.
But the whispers of “boycott” are rampant and rumbling to a dull roar all over Facebook social media.
“People aren’t happy about this…they don’t feel this is what our little village is about,” said Storenson.
When Sorenson and his fellow township officers went to the county, they stuck to the facts and what they felt were legitimate issues, ranging from public safety to environmental considerations. Cormorant officials believed they had valid public policy concerns with the development, and weren’t arguing on the basis of “protectionism” of local business.
“This was agriculturally zoned land,” said Sorenson. “The county had to re-zone it to commercial to even allow this project…We stayed focused on factual issues.”
• A U.S. wildlife preserve borders the Dollar General on the south.
•Ag land surrounds the site to the east and north. “Everything on that side of the road (Becker County 5, just north of Pelican Lake) is either agricultural or conservation land,” said Sorenson.
• Its a well known deer crossing zone, and wetland habitat is scattered throughout–with a high density of nesting waterfowl.
• The county road is a 55 mph zone, with a hill and compromised visibility–with a major retail entrance right in the middle. “It’s a public safety issue with cars coming in and out of the store…and we all know people aren’t always driving 55,” said Sorenson, who described it as a dangerous approach for a retail store with potentially high volume of traffic in and out.
• The Cormorant Town Board contends that Becker County set a really bad precedent by re-zoning ag land. “Our point was that, if they overturn an agricultural land zoning here–with all these circumstances–how can they ever turn down anything, anywhere else in the county?” said Sorenson.
Likely to feel the most competitive impact from a discount retailer like Dollar General is the Cormorant General Store, barely a five minute buggy ride to the north.
Cormorant’s most famous citizen, Mayor Duke the Dog, is likely rolling over in his grave at this very moment. Duke attained international fame when he won a tongue-in-cheek election, and ended up serving as the world’s only canine mayor– for nearly five years, until his death in February 2019.
What would Duke do?
Were he alive today, Mayor Duke would probably stage a sit-down strike, and refuse to make an appearance at the store’s grand opening-ribbon cutting ceremony…Even if the General did toss him a bone.