Business: Dollar General coming to Knotts Island, will build right next door to family-run market

Workers clear away debris on Thursday, Feb. 7, at the site of a future Dollar General Store on Knotts Island. It is going in next door to Knotts Island Market, a family-run business. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

KNOTTS ISLAND, N.C. – A Dollar General store is coming to Knotts Island, the small Currituck County community that, aside from ferry service, is isolated from the North Carolina mainland but connected to rural areas of Virginia Beach.

The building at the site of a former restaurant at 401 Knotts Island Road was torn down this month to make way for the project, though it is uncertain when the store will open. In recent years, Dollar General has expanded rapidly, and the company is increasingly offering packaged food and some refrigerated food items in areas that are not served by major supermarkets.

The Wall Street Journal in December reported that the chain may expand by 975 stores this year, and offering more food choices is part of its growth plan.

Its offerings here are not yet known, but Dollar General, which also sells items such as health and beauty products, cleaning supplies and housewares, has raised concerns for an established island hub – Knotts Island Market, a family-run business that offers groceries, gas, prepared food, fresh-cut meat, a full-service deli and more. 

The market dates back to the 1850s, and is the only general store on the island. Dollar General is going in right next door.

“The only reason Dollar General is coming in here is because of the dollar,” said Beverley Gilliam, who owns the market with her husband. “The reason we’re here is because this is what the island needs.”

She said she is a bit worried about the Dollar General, but she added that the market has an established relationship with the community and its customers.

“I don’t believe Dollar General can come close to what Knotts Island is for – the community, the school, the churches.”

Applications for the Dollar General on the island shows the store may be about 9,000 square feet. Plans filed with the county name Vanguard Property Group, which has developed other Dollar General locations, as the applicant. A Dollar General corporate spokesperson, wrote in a email that construction should begin in the coming weeks with a grand opening this summer.

“When choosing store locations, meeting customers’ needs is Dollar General’s top priority,” the spokesperson, Angela Petkovic, wrote.

Larry Lombardi, the economic development director for the county, said the location could mean six or more jobs and an investment of about $2 million. He said Dollar General looked at another property on the island, but that did not work out. The current site became available this past year.

“That’s a sizable investment, particularly, as you know, Knotts Island is not largely populated,” Lombardi said, noting that there will be choices for consumers. “I think this will be a very good thing for the island.”

Josh Bass, president of the Currituck Chamber of Commerce, said Dollar General locations have popped up in rural areas, including in the county. He added that independent businesses that face corporate competition may face a challenge, but they can rise to it. 

“What they typically do is differentiate the service,” Bass said. “It’s all based upon how the business responds.”

Bass noted that Knotts Island Market already offers unique items such as prepared foods, and he said a locally run business can respond to customers in a different way than a chain might.

“If you’re a local and you go in there and say I really wish you’d carry whatever, they can source it where a corporate entity can’t be as nimble,” Bass said.

During a recent visit to the island, one local made her preference clear. “We’re not happy about it,” Kay Scott said. “This is our store here – Knotts Island Market.”

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