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Monday, March 10, 2014

Picturesque Town Battles Over Chain Stores

Freeman's hand-painted sign along Rt. 101 has sparked conversation about the future of Dublin. (Todd Bookman/NHPR)

Freeman’s hand-painted sign along Rt. 101 has sparked conversation about the future of Dublin. (Todd Bookman/NHPR)

Tomorrow, residents in the town of Dublin, New Hampshire, will get to vote on whether commercial drive-thru restaurants should be allowed to come to town.

Right now there are none in the picturesque town of 1,600, that sits at the base of a mountain. Many people there would like to keep it that way.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Todd Bookman of New Hampshire Public Radio reports.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.

And we got the news today that the pizza restaurant chain Sbarro has filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in three years. It's been struggling with the high cost of food, labor and real estate. Last month, the company said it would close more than a third of its restaurants in North America although that still leaves it with more than 800 restaurants around the world. But lower traffic in malls where many Sbarro pizzerias are located contributed to today's bankruptcy filing.

YOUNG: Meanwhile on the subject of fast food, tomorrow, residents of Dublin, New Hampshire will get to vote on whether commercial drive-thrus should be allowed in. Right now, there are none in this picturesque New England town of 1,600, and many people would like to keep it that way. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, New Hampshire Public Radio's Todd Bookman Reports.

TODD BOOKMAN, BYLINE: There's no neon in Dublin. No chains stores, no banks even. So it was a bit curious when a sign popped up last month proclaiming the arrival of a Taco Bell. Hand-painted on plywood, it stands along Route 101 on the edge of property owned by Andy Freeman. He says it isn't personal.

ANDY FREEMAN: Do I have a problem with Taco Bell? No. No, I don't have any problem with Taco Bell at all.

BOOKMAN: Freeman owns the 172-year old Dublin General Store. The town, in many ways, revolves around it. Right now, Taco Bell doesn't have any plans to set up a drive-thru in Dublin. But Freeman says his sign is a symbolic warning, his attempt to explain to voters just what he believes is at stake in tomorrow's ballot measure that would allow any commercial retailer to open a drive-thru in zoned areas.

FREEMAN: This is a heavily traveled route. It is the only east-west route in Southern New Hampshire. It is very attractive to big business, and we would be opening the door and saying, come on home.

BOOKMAN: Freeman scrawled vote no on Article 6 across the Taco Bell logo. The town says he needs to take it down. Some residents are equally displeased with the sign.

STEVE BALDWIN: This is free enterprise. This country is formed and based on free enterprise. We all have a right to prosper.

BOOKMAN: Steve Baldwin lives in town. He's retired and also on the ballot for planning board.

BALDWIN: So we can't just say, oh, we can't do this because of that. I just think that's completely unfair. And maybe a little bit of that is going on in Dublin.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And $14.05. Thank you. Have a great day.

BOOKMAN: Development versus character. Progress versus tradition. Tough questions, yes, but Michelle Bishop says this debate is getting blown way out of proportion. She manages the Citgo station and minimart a mile and a half down the road from the general store. It is here where the first drive-thru window would go.

MICHELLE BISHOP: Customers want it. It's a matter of convenience. This is a convenience store with a gas station. You drive thru, you get gas. You drive thru, you get coffee. And it's simple. You wouldn't even know it was there.

BOOKMAN: Bishop says the building renovation plans are tasteful. The drive-thru would be around back. And the $2 million proposed project also brings the space into ADA compliance. Regardless, Dublin resident Seth Farmer opposes the project.

SETH FARMER: I mean, for a hundred years, vacationers have come here from Boston to escape commercialization, to escape mainstream life, to just live in a different age, if you will. And that's - a drive-thru would ruin that.

BOOKMAN: Selectman Sturdy Thomas says rather than town officials changing the zoning ordinance, it's important for townspeople to weigh in.

STURDY THOMAS: What's at issue is where do we want the town of Dublin 10 years from now? How do you want the town to look?

BOOKMAN: Tatum Worcester doesn't yet have an answer to that question. She feels torn by both sides.

TATUM WORCESTER: Dublin General Store offers, you know, good, quality home-made food, you know, and, I mean, it's just - it's, for us, it is Dub Gen.

BOOKMAN: But today, she pulled into Michelle Bishop's minimart for a cup of coffee.

WORCESTER: This is on the way for my route today. So it's classic convenience at a convenience store.

BOOKMAN: A convenience store that may soon be equipped with a drive-thru. It's a classic small town dispute that residents will vote on but may not settle at the polls tomorrow. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Todd Bookman in Dublin, New Hampshire.

HOBSON: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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