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Dollar Stores: Helping Food Deserts or making things worse?

luckless pedestrian

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I had this article sent to me today at work wondering if my fair city should do anything about it - this was my response below, but I was wondering if anyone else had thought about the negatives of Dollar Stores like this article suggests and has researched.

my response:

I always get a little nervous when we want to discriminate in zoning between one retail company over another. Given Dollar Stores are a national chain, only Congress can control interstate commerce so any zoning preventing a chain is not only possibly discriminatory practice, but probably is unconstitutional, imho.

Now, having read the whole article – it is a fascinating shift of perspective and research as many poor rural areas at first saw Dollar Stores as a way to help the rural food desert from people driving a half hour or more to go grocery shopping. It was also perceived as a “sign” amongst planners that your little rural town just got noticed by Dollar Store if they located there. Demographic projections on your population could be assumed if Dollar Store went there, akin to 20 years ago when a Starbucks went into your downtown, as in, yeah, our downtown is successful(!). But both of these exclamations are now reversed as independent stores or smaller chains are now more encouraged in our communities.

I think the food desert here that exists is actually in the core business district. As more residential units are created here, it is amazing that no little food shop beyond the wine and cheese shop we have has popped up to serve this growing residential population. Shaws is just shy of being walkable except for the neighborhoods directly behind it. Hannaford stores are barely walkable, except for the adjacent apartment buildings.

So I wouldn’t recommend an attempt to regulate against this use (retail is retail in land use) but rather look to encourage small grocery in the Downtown Development District which we can do and the timing is right as I am making some wholesale (no pun intended) changes to this district right now.
 
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DVD

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First to define a food desert as having a grocery store more than a mile away is maybe a little unrealistic. Here stores are usually a few miles apart even in decent neighborhoods. They can't handle that much competition against each other. Now granted I currently live in a grocery heavy area, most people must go about 2 miles to get to the store. There are other areas where the distance is more like 5 miles and I worry about those areas. And please don't use Whole Foods (one of the links in the article) to compare good and bad food practices. Yes, Dollar General feeds more people than Whole Foods. I'm shocked.

If you don't know, there is no profit line in groceries. This is why so many of the big chains sell dry goods. There is profit in that side of the store and since some neighborhoods can't afford to buy that stuff and just need good groceries they don't locate in those areas. The age of the mom and pop grocery store is pretty much done. If all the stars align you can get a small one working, but as soon as a better option comes along they won't be able to compete. So how can we make it so they can compete without throwing out all their competition? Then again, this might be one of those high minded planner ideas that really doesn't have a zoning based answer beyond reducing some parking standards.

Now if banning dollar stores actually does encourage groceries to show up, I can see it being done. They're not really banning it, just creating buffer zones like we do with a lot of uses like tattoo, pawn, liquor, etc.
 

dw914er

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I think that they generally improve the food desert issue by providing access to a greater variety of foods over a convenience store, though I have not shopped in one to assess the quality of food to determine if they are actually providing better options. I do know that some of the underserved communities hate the idea of having dollar stores; I have a friend that is currently rallying against a dollar store being built in her community.


There are cities that have some sort of Formula Business Restrictions to address corporate businesses within their community, though I have never worked in a community that had one myself. I think DVD's comment that the limited profit line is part of the issue for alternatives; larger grocery chains business models would be looking for a higher yield location, and most independent stores seem to cater to more specific niches, leaving out options for the underserved communities. These dollar stores see the void in the market, and with their lower cost items and a more aggressive expansion approach, are the ones filling it.
 

DVD

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I can see if the dollar stores are using the Walmart model of market saturation that kills small businesses, but how often is that happening? If they're pushing out the small stores then that kills the food in the area, but living in a larger city it just isn't noticed.
 
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