The owner of a small-town hardware store is fighting to keep his business alive as two chain stores consider opening Poolesville branches.
John Speelman, owner of Poolesville Hardware, has run his store for almost 30 years.
“I’m not here for the money,” Speelman said. “I’m here because I enjoy what I do.”
The town commissioners have welcomed the prospect of Tractor Supply Co. moving into the space formerly occupied by Selby’s Market at 19610 Fisher Avenue. The market served as the town’s only grocery store before it closed in 2012.
The second chain store with its eye on Poolesville is Dollar General, whose representatives have presented sketches of a new building for 19718 Fisher Ave.
Tennessee-based Tractor Supply Co. sells home and garden supplies, animal feed, vehicle accessories and power equipment in its retail stores.
Speelman worries that if Tractor Supply moves in, he’ll have to close shop.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to hurt,” he said. Business is slow during the day, he said, and he’s lucky if he makes up the difference on weekends.
But if Tractor Supply opens, new residents moving into town may not know he’s there, he said.
Tractor Supply provides much of the same kind of merchandise he sells at Poolesville Hardware, except for plumbing and electrical supplies.
Tractor Supply has provided no official confirmation of a new Poolesville store.
“There is still nothing we can confirm concerning a possible Poolesville location at this time,” Tractor Supply spokesman Rob Hoskins said in a Monday email.
But, town Commissioner Chuck Stump said Tractor Supply representatives have been talking with the owner of the shopping center about refitting the space for the business.
Speelman said there is a small chance Poolesville Hardware might survive if Tractor Supply moves in.
Instead of waiting to see what happens, he is taking action. He has created a survey for Poolesville residents, asking how often they would shop at new stores like Tractor Supply. He plans to distribute 200 copies next week and give the town commissioners the results in December.
Stump and the planning commission met Nov. 13 to discuss Tractor Supply’s plans.
Two issues are apparent, Stump said: the high number of required parking spaces for the store and whether merchandise can be kept outside the building. The town can provide a waiver on its parking regulations, but the outdoor merchandise will have to be in a new, fenced-in part of the parking lot.
“If they do end up needing it,” Stump said, “we’re going to want it to look really nice.” Otherwise, the store could be a “potential eyesore and safety issue” if the store takes over too large a footprint, he said.
The town’s parking regulations for retail stores require one parking space per 100 square feet of sales floor area, which, in Tractor Supply’s case, would mean about 70 spaces, he said. The planning commission is drafting new regulations that would require fewer parking spaces — one per 300 square feet of sales floor.
The town’s current regulations have been problematic for new, smaller businesses, which pay hundreds of dollars to get a special exception, Stump said.
Dollar General has been working with the town’s commissioners to build a new store at 19718 Fisher Ave. According to town manager Wade Yost, the empty lot was a residential home decades ago.
The commissioners and development representatives have gone through multiple rounds of redesigns for the new store’s facade, Stump said, making it look more like Poolesville’s town hall.
According to Yost, Dollar General’s plan is to secure the permits it needs for its building, then move onto the property.
The planning commission will meet next in December to hold a public hearing on Dollar General’s site plan.
George Coakley, the chairman of Poolesville’s planning commission, said residents who attended the recent meeting had two main concerns: retaining the “small-town atmosphere and charm” of Poolesville, and the harm that the two new stores may bring to existing businesses.
Though Poolesville’s master plan lays out a “caring community with small-town values,” Speelman said, the commissioners are risking the town’s image by welcoming chain stores.
The majority of Poolesville’s commissioners generally have welcomed small and mid-size businesses to town, but Tractor Supply also would play the role of filling the prominent anchor space in the shopping center.
At a commissioners’ meeting at Town Hall on Nov. 4, Speelman spoke out about Poolesville’s future.
“I think we’re going in the wrong direction,” he said.
Town Commissioner Valaree Dickerson responded that since the shopping center’s buildings are already built, they can’t be allowed to deteriorate, without tenants to improve them. The president of the town commissioners, Jim Brown, said they have to look at the big picture and allow growth in Poolesville.
“We’re on your side,” Dickerson told Speelman.
But, if Tractor Supply moves in, the hardware store owner said he’ll have to work harder just to get by.
“I’m fighting for my life here,” he said.