Dollar Chains: Do They Help or Hurt Communities?

Tracy Stengel
Photo byMichael Rivera/Unsplash

Dollar chains are ubiquitous across the United States. Dollar General has over 19,000 stores and boasts 75% of Americans live within 5 miles of a Dollar General. Dollar Tree, which owns Family Dollar, has over 16,000 stores. In a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), the number of dollar chain stores in the U.S. outnumber McDonalds, Starbucks, Target, and Walmart combined.

Recently, the small town of Olive Hill, with a population of about 1,500 residents, made international headlines for having six dollar stores. Many find that extreme.

The ILSR claims these dollar chains, which are spreading faster than juicy gossip, target vulnerable communities and put independent grocery stores and local shops out of business. According to the ILSR, Dollar General opened about 3,500 stores in the last four years. More than 100 opened in New York, almost 200 in Ohio, and 300 in Texas.

On their website, the ILSR says, “As this report shows, in small towns and urban neighborhoods alike, dollar stores drive grocery stores and other retailers out of business, leave more people without access to fresh food, extract wealth from local economies, sow crime and violence, and further erode the prospects of the communities they target.”

Many communities are saying no to dollar chains. In late 2020, the Dollar General wanted to build a store in Morgan, Minnesota, which has a population of less than 900 people. The mayor, Jerry Huiras, had never been to a Dollar General and decided to check one out in a neighboring town.

He wasn’t impressed.

Huiras decided Morgan was doing just fine with the family-owned grocery store they had, that had been operating for over 100 years. He also didn’t like how the grocery section had a lot of canned goods that weren’t from the United States. Armed with a petition of over 200 signatures, the city of Morgan and Redwood County commissioners voted down Dollar General’s permit to build.

Since 2019, over 75 communities have voted down having a dollar chain in their midst and about 50 have put limits on dollar store development. In Toledo, Ohio, Rev. Dr. Donald Perryman, Senior Pastor at The Center of Hope Community Baptist Church fought to implement a moratorium to prevent more dollar chains being built. He won. But recently, the moratorium expired without his knowledge and now he has to start all over again.

“They’re a cancer on vulnerable urban neighborhoods,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’ll take, but we plan to win.”

In 2019, Birmingham, Alabama had more than 40 dollar chain stores. Five supermarkets had closed since 2005 due to being undercut by the dollar stores. Now, Birmingham bans new dollar stores within a mile of an existing store and is helping finance new supermarkets to open.

When the last grocery store closed in Northeast Oklahoma City, they banned new dollar stores from opening within a mile of an existing store unless the new store agrees to designate 500 square feet for fresh produce.

While many don’t want dollar stores in their communities, others feel it fills a need in areas that are food desserts. The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) feels banning dollar stores is a mistake. Fee believes without dollar stores, families have to travel farther to get necessities like diapers, sugar, and tuna.

On FEE’s website, it says, “Banning or limiting dollar stores does not, in turn, usher in an age of full-service grocery stores in unserved neighborhoods. It just means fewer options for those who live there.”

Do you think dollar stores hurt communities or make them better? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments!

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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