Another day, another squalor: US cities are working to curb the rise of dollar stores

As dollar store backlash rises, more cities are crafting laws to help curb the spread of food deserts.


October 8, 2019

EMILY KASK/AFP/Getty Images

According to the USDA’s most recent survey, around 19m people live in areas that lack access to grocery stores or supermarkets with healthy and affordable food options. These low-income communities are known as food deserts.

Experts say the break-neck expansion of dollar-store chains, which box out local mom-and-pop retailers and grocers that aim to provide fresh food in those neighborhoods, has exacerbated the problem.

Now, a number of US cities are passing laws to curb the mass consumption of off-brand Cheez-Its and pudding packs brought on by dollar-store growth.

You really do get what you pay for

There are about 30k dollar stores in the US today. Per Axios, that’s more than the total number of Walmarts and McDonald’s combined. And discount juggernauts like Dollar Tree and Dollar General — which became the fastest growing retailer in the US in 2018 — have no plans to stop.

Over the years, local newspapers in places like North Dakota and Minnesota have trashed dollar stores for killing home-grown businesses. Now, Alabama’s getting in the mix.

Birmingham — where close to 70% of city residents live in food deserts — has passed 2 laws prohibiting new dollar stores from opening within a mile of an existing location.

Of course, the discount giants disagree

“Our stores provide an affordable and convenient fill-in shopping option for our customers… all while creating more jobs and investing in the communities we serve,” said a Dollar Tree spokesperson.

Nonetheless, buck-o-backlash is picking up steam, and more and more cities, from towns like Hutchinson, Kansas, to big metros like Cleveland are looking to fight the spread.

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