Some residents of an idyllic Southern Arizona town are aghast to learn they are getting their first chain store.

A Dollar General is under construction along a scenic highway, on the corner of Highways 82 and 83 in Sonoita.

To add insult to injury, some residents say, the future store is at the same intersection as the iconic Steak Out Restaurant & Saloon, and the local deli and mini-mart.

“I think it’s garbage, hot garbage,” said Steven Vendituoli, who has lived in Sonoita for 10 years. “It’s ghetto. If we were getting something cool, I’d suck it up, but we’re too close to Tucson, Sierra Vista or Nogales for this to make sense. I was pretty surprised.”

Records show DCM Developer Co. LLC paid $225,000 for 70,132 square feet of land from JJC Properties to build the store.

“Not too many people care for it,” said Alan Pallanes, manager of the Sonoita Mini Mart, which sits kitty-corner from the future Dollar General. “Who knows how it’s going to affect us.”

He said many residents have pledged to boycott the new store.

“We have really loyal customers,” Pallanes said, “But who’s to say?”

Because the property was already zoned for commercial development, it wasn’t possible to block the development or necessary for the company to hold a public hearing, said John Maynard, Santa Cruz County supervisor for District 3, which represents Sonoita.

“It doesn’t fit the community, nor does it address the needs of the community,” he said. “I’m hoping the company will rethink it. I mean I wouldn’t want to put a business in a community that is boycotting that business.”

Residents planned to hold a protest this weekend, in an attempt to get Dollar General to see it is unwanted in the town.

Crystal Ghassemi, a spokeswoman for Dollar General Corp., said the company looks at “competitive factors and traffic patterns” when choosing a new site.

“The company looks for places where we can offer customers an easy and convenient shopping choice,” she said. “We know convenience is a major factor in our customers’ shopping decisions as we generally serve customers within a 3- to 5-mile radius, or 10-minute drive.”

Sonoita has a population of a little more than 800 residents; neighboring Elgin about 160 and Patagonia about 900, figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show.

Ghassemi said the store will employ between six and 10 people and stock health and beauty products, home cleaning supplies, housewares, seasonal items and basic clothing. Packaged and frozen food will also be available.

“I don’t understand why they’re building here; it doesn’t make any sense,” said Ken Karrels, who has owned Diamond JK Nursery for 10 years. “I know how to run a business in a small town, and it’s not about moving volume.”

He said tourists come for the wine or outdoor activities.

“I hope the culture of the community doesn’t change,” he said.

But one longtime resident said the community has already changed, and she isn’t opposed to the new store.

“The main reason is because I can get stuff without driving to Tucson or Sierra Vista,” said Therese Schwartz, who has lived in Sonoita for 48 years.

“I know people are saying, ‘Oh, it’s ugly’ but when I moved here there was one small store, two gas pumps, a post office and salon,” she said. “You didn’t see houses and I could drive to the Huachucas and pass one car on the road and know who it was.

“In my opinion this place is ugly already,” she said.

Residents who have moved to Sonoita in the past 25 years wanted commercial zoning for restaurants and wineries and stores, which opened the door for chain stores to enter the town, she said.

“The biggest resistance is coming from the new people and I don’t understand them — they complain about the cows and the flies and the mine,” Schwartz said. “They wish they had enough money to live in Napa Valley but they bought here and want their friends to see a quaint little town.”

Schwartz said she knows many local people who are happy the store will be nearby and hire local employees, but they don’t vocalize it.

Dollar General did not provide a timeline for completion of the store.

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at


Gabriela's newspaper career began at the Tucson Citizen in '86 as the "movie-times girl" where she'd call local theaters for showtimes. Since then, she's written about crime, education, immigration, trade and business. She's been with the Star since 2007.