Does A Drive-Thru Change A Town? Dublin Must Decide

Mar 7, 2014

Nestled at the base of Mount Monadnock, the town of Dublin remains a portrait of New England life. There’s no neon, no chains stores, not even a bank.

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.

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

“Do I have a problem with Taco Bell? No, I don’t have any problem with Taco Bell at all,” says Freeman.

He owns the 172-year old Dublin General Store, in many ways the epicenter of the town. The “Taco Bell” sign is his attempt to explain to voters just what he believes is at stake in Tuesday’s ballot measure to allow commercial drive-thrus in certain zoned areas. 

“This is a heavily traveled route,” says Freeman. “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.’”

Freeman scrawled ‘Vote No On Article 6’ across the Taco Bell logo. The town says he needs to take it down, and some residents are equally displeased with the sign.

“This is free enterprise. This country is formed and based on free enterprise. We all have a right to prosper,” says Steve Baldwin, a retired resident also on the ballot Tuesday for a seat on the planning board.

“So we can’t just say, ‘We can’t do this because of that.’ I just think that is completely unfair. Maybe a little bit of that is going on in Dublin.”

The Future Of Dublin In Doubt?

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 gas station and mini-mart a mile-and-a-half down the road from the general store. It is here where the first drive-thru window would go, not at a hypothetical Taco Bell.

“Customers want it…it is 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 is simple. You wouldn’t even know it was there,” says Bishop.

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.

She also denies the rumor around town that it would be a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru. Bishop says it would proudly serve its own gas-station brew.

No matter the roaster, resident Seth Farmer opposes the project.

“For 100 years, vacationers have come here from Boston to escape commercialization, to escape mainstream life, to just live in a different age, if you will. A drive-thru would ruin that,” says Farmer.

Voters Weigh In

Selectman Study Thomas says rather than town officials changing the zoning ordinance, it’s important for townspeople to weigh in.

“What’s at issue is where do we want the town of Dublin ten years from now? How do you want the town to look?” asks Thomas.

"What's at issue is where do we want the town of Dublin ten years from now? How do you want the town to look?"

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

“Dublin General Store offers good, quality home-made food and it is, for us, it is ‘Dub Gen.’”

But today, she pulled into the Citgo for a cup.

“This was on the way for my route today; it is classic convenience at a convenience store,” says Worcester.

A classic small town dispute that 1,600 or so residents will vote on—if not settle—in the coming days.