MATTHEWS, N.C. -- As Family Dollar opens hundreds of new stores, many in new territories, sometimes expansion comes with growing pains - such as those in the small mountain community of Ridgway, Colo.
There, the chain is meeting strong opposition from a small group of vocal residents who want to keep the Matthews-based retailer out of their town.
"It's a pristine, unique little town. There's not many of them left," said Vicci Spencer, one of the residents spearheading local opposition. She fears the national chain, with more than 7,000 stores, will put local retailers out of business.
Spencer helped form Citizens to Preserve Ridgway, a group of local residents and merchants, earlier this year when the town of just over 1,000 learned that Family Dollar would be opening a store near the town's only stoplight.
They've collected more than 700 signatures on a petition asking the store to keep out and have emailed CEO Howard Levine - but they acknowledge there's nothing they can do under the town's zoning laws to block Family Dollar.
"We try to be respectful of the community when we build a store," said Family Dollar spokesman Josh Braverman, who said the store won't kill local businesses.
The Ridgway store will be built with stacked stone and awnings to help blend into the local, Western architecture.
Kenneth Stone, an Iowa State University professor who's studied the impact of chain-store expansion on communities, said opposition often varies by community, with higher-income areas more likely to fight the stores.
"There are...those that absolutely don't want them," said Stone, who has studied Wal-Mart. "Then there are some towns that simply can't get chain stores to come, and would give almost anything to attract them."
Not everyone in Ridgway is opposed to Family Dollar. Braverman said he's received emails from Ridgway residents enthusiastic about the new store, which will eliminate a nearly 60-mile round-trip to the nearest Family Dollar in the town of Montrose, Colo.
Some have been quoted in local media saying they support the plan to bring a low-cost retailer into the town. The new store will hire between seven and 10 workers, including a full-time manager and part-time associates.
"Any time you can save money... It's going to help the economy, help the town. I'm all for it," resident Rich Weber told a local media outlet.
The store has been approved for building permits, and its opponents acknowledge they have no legal recourse to stop its construction.
The retailer has been under pressure to ratchet up the pace of store openings, especially since activist investor Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management bought a large stake in Family Dollar.
Although the company's board of directors rejected a $7.6 billion takeover offer earlier this year, Peltz has said Family Dollar needs to match rival Dollar General - which has more stores and is opening new ones more rapidly.
Family Dollar has 300 new stores planned for fiscal 2011, a 50 percent increase over 2010.
The Ridgway fight is a twist on a familiar American story: Local businesses and communities fighting to keep a chain out.
The fights first appeared before World War II, when chain stores were beginning to spread. Although chain stores became a fact of life, they still can face opposition when moving into new areas - especially Wal-Mart.
That retailer has drawn fierce and passionate opponents as it expanded from an Arkansas merchant to the low-cost chain that's dominated much of American retail and is the country's largest private employer.
Opponents say Wal-Mart destroys local businesses and undercuts wages for retail workers when it moves into a new area.
Family Dollar officials are quick to point out that they're no Wal-Mart. Braverman said the Ridgway store will be about 7,000 square feet - a fraction of a 185,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter.
He said he doesn't expect the store to put any local retailers out of business.
Stone, the professor, said his research has shown local retailers adapt to huge chain stores like Wal-Mart by competing on things besides price, such as service or shopping experience.
Although Family Dollar will likely be able to sell similar goods for less than competing merchants, Stone said its small size will likely limit its impact on the area.
Spencer and her fellow activists aren't buying it. "It's not their intention, but it will happen," said Spencer. "There's the same amount of dollars to spend in Ridgway...those dollars will just get shifted to Family Dollar."
Kay Lair, another Ridgway resident involved with the effort, said she's worried Family Dollar could drain sales from local businesses selling many similar products, such as the town's drugstore. If those stores are hurt, she worries the local flavor of the town would be as well.
"You walk in there and its, 'Hi, Donna!' You know them. The person who owns it is the head pharmacist," Lair said.
There are chain stores in Ridgway, of course. There is a Subway restaurant near the planned Family Dollar. Spencer said that store has been in place for years and is not located in a standalone building, which she said makes it more acceptable.
Family Dollar has faced opposition in other communities. Earlier this month, City Council members in Birmingham, Ala., voted down a zoning request for a new store.
Neighborhood residents had petitioned the council in support of the store, according to local media reports, but a church objected to having a Family Dollar built next door.
Even on its home turf, in Charlotte, Family Dollar hasn't always seen smooth sailing. In 2008, the retailer faced opposition while asking for rezoning of a site on West Trade Street near uptown.
Residents said they wanted the site zoned for mixed use instead.
Family Dollar won the zoning, and built a store on the site. Braverman said the store has since done well, with double-digit annual sales increases.
In Ridgway, Spencer said that she and other residents who've signed her petition will now focus on changing town codes to keep out any future chain stores.
They plan to boycott Family Dollar when it opens. To do otherwise, she said, would undermine the community of local merchants.
"What's more important?" she asked. "Saving 40 cents on a can of beans, or keeping our town viable?"