It might've seemed like dollar stores came to the rescue during the pandemic, using bare-bones staffed stores to stay open and provide snacks and dairy products to locked-down families out of range of grocery stores and shopping centers. But they're facing a backlash now, as more and more communities have decided chains like Dollar General and Dollar Tree are actually a problem that runs deeper than their discounts.
As The New York Times reports, communities across the country have rejected 70 dollar stores for reasons including lackadaisical crime prevention at stores, lack of nutritional food options in the food deserts they occupy, and the low wages they pay workers.
As Dallas Weekly reported in late 2021, dollar stores have been a net-negative in struggling city neighborhoods and small towns. Since 2015, Dollar General and Dollar Tree have opened nearly 10,000 new locations—representing about 50 percent growth—with no plans to slow down. But these stores aren't merely reflections of already weak local economies; they're partially to blame. "By saturating communities with multiple outlets, dollar stores have made it harder for full-service grocery stores to succeed," the paper reports. "The chains are fueled by easy cash from Wall Street and crowd out other new grocers and local businesses."
In places like Atlanta, lawmakers are taking notice at how the businesses hurt Black communities in particular. DeKalb County, Georgia, put a moratorium on the small-box businesses, saying the stores were hurting property values, promoting crime, and unfairly competing against grocery stores that provide better food options. The stores undercut pricing and have little labor costs, so grocery stores avoid areas with lots of discount dollar stores.
DeKalb County is nearly 55 percent African-American, and the dollar stores were targeting neighborhoods with the lowest median incomes and the most residents of color, reports Civileats.
Sure, you can get a paintbrush, a six-pack of Mountain Dew, and a Halloween costume in one visit to a set of overcrowded, overstuffed aisles for under $20. But think about the community impact before you keep shopping at your nearby dollar store and ask yourself: Is it worth it?
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