Cities say dollar store costs aren’t worth it, including food deserts and crime


Benefit or harm? That question is increasingly preoccupying town and city officials across America as they calculate the costs of the staggering expansion of discount stores like Dollar General and Dollar Tree.

In February, Chicago became the largest city not to require restrictions on retail stores, with officials saying that while they meet the needs of families in areas lacking basic retail services, they are also a source of economic hardship. It was judged.

Critics of these stores, which remained open to provide essential goods during the COVID-19 pandemic and have since expanded rapidly, say they are often poorly maintained and have been accused of crimes such as shoplifting. It says it’s displacing grocery stores and other businesses.

It also said these stores are creating “food deserts” where consumers have little access to healthy, fresh produce. Supporters argue that so-called small retailers provide a lifeline to low-income families.

Chicago’s action is just the latest of about 130 regulations imposed on dollar store expansion in recent years.

Other cities and towns have introduced similar regulations or ordered moratoriums on the expansion of dollar stores, and some analysts expect further protests.

“This whole thing has exploded,” said Kennedy Smith, a senior fellow at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), which published a report on the “Dollar Store Invasion” last year.

“As word spreads about communities that have successfully controlled dollar store development, other communities are coming to us for guidance,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As part of the new regulations, the Chicago City Council introduced a ban on new dollar stores opening within one mile of another store owned by the same company.

The ordinance states that “Regulating small retail stores is necessary and desirable and is in the public interest to promote stronger and more resilient communities and protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the City.” ”.

Dollar Tree and Dollar General, including Family Dollar Outlets, have more than 35,000 stores nationwide.

A Dollar Tree spokesperson said Chicago’s decision means the company and other small retailers are “essentially prohibited from opening new or relocated stores” in the city.

The move “will do more harm than help to the very communities it claims to support by limiting our flexibility to improve our stores and offer new products to people in our communities.” a representative told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The company did not comment on the council’s criticism of the store’s economic impact.

Grassroots opposition to dollar stores is just the latest challenge for these retailers. Sales have also been hurt by competition from other rivals, including Chinese e-commerce platform Temu and Walmart.

In March, Dollar Tree announced plans to close nearly 1,000 Family Dollar stores due to poor sales during the holiday season. Discount stores are also struggling with changing consumer demands and rising costs.

Closures give communities an opportunity to “reset the clock and find better ways to ensure residents have convenient, affordable access to healthy food. Fewer 100-yen stores, better communities.” “It will be easier to develop and attract food options,” Smith said.

But not everyone is happy about dollar stores’ struggles.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and other business groups said the new rules are “misguided” and will “drastically limit opportunities for new economic development in communities where investment is most needed.” It will happen,” he said.

budget expansion

So far, there has been little consumer pushback aside from the expansion of dollar stores, in part because the crackdowns are primarily taking place in locations where many other dollar stores already operate. said local officials.

And there’s evidence that retailers are responding to real demand.

In the first national survey conducted last year by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, more than 80% of respondents said stores contribute to local communities, are convenient, and work on tight budgets.

However, nearly 60% of those who did not shop in stores said it was because of low-quality produce or poor store appearance, and 80% of respondents overall said they would choose healthier food options. I answered that it should be increased.

Researchers at UCLA Anderson and the University of Toronto also emphasized expanding access to food, finding that for every $3 store that opens within a two-mile radius, about one grocery store closes.

This is a big concern for Pastor Donald Perryman, who runs Center of Hope Church in Toledo, Ohio. He said his neighborhood once had a thriving black community, but it has endured decades of disinvestment.

“We believe our church is on the edge of poverty and suffering,” he said. “We were interested in restoring pride in the area.”

In 2020, Perryman and other residents forced Toledo to implement a moratorium requiring dollar stores to apply for a special permit, but the law expired a year later.

They are now calling for a total ban as part of a broader effort to link economic development to promoting healthier food options.

“We are currently working on a ‘health food zone’ where we can encourage people to bring in healthy food as a safe space without retail stores such as dollar stores,” Perryman said.

deluge of dollars

For Kim Landry Coates, it was the sheer number of dollar stores in Tangipahoa Parish, north of New Orleans, that fueled the opposition.

“There were nine dollar stores within about five miles,” said Landry Coates, a former Tangipahoa Parish council member and current Louisiana state representative.

When the sign went up announcing plans for the new store, “the phone was ringing off the hook,” she recalls. “They said, ‘There are two on the same road within a mile.’ That doesn’t make sense.”

Last year, the parish’s Planning Commission rejected a developer’s request to build a Dollar General, citing residents’ “health and safety” concerns.

In a petition calling for the ban, the people of Tangipahoa say they are being negatively affected by the “saturation” of dollar stores, which increase traffic, impact drainage, reduce small businesses, and reduce trash and waste. He claimed that it was attracting crime.

A judge upheld the commission’s decision in November, and the case is currently under appeal. The developer did not respond to a request for comment, and Dollar General did not comment on the matter.

“Only shown in town”

Lorraine Cochran Johnson, former commissioner of DeKalb County, Georgia, believes collaboration is the key to balancing the strengths and weaknesses of dollar stores.

Her county introduced a moratorium on dollar store expansion in 2019, followed by legislation mandating distance requirements between stores in 2022. This is most common in DeKalb’s poor African American communities.

“Since then, not a single dollar store has required a property disturbance, permit or business license,” said Cochran-Johnson, who is currently running for county mayor.

“I’m not against dollar stores,” she said. “We just want to make sure we don’t have a negative impact on the community.”

Cochran-Johnson authored legislation to encourage stores to offer fresh food, and she said many stores now have refrigerated food sections selling things like milk and cheese.

“They are in a unique position to partner with us. In many cases, this show is the only show in town, so we have established best practices so that we can meet the needs of the people we serve.” I think you should.”

This article was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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