In Rural And Low-Income Communities, Dollar Stores Are A Growing Presence

In many areas, the discount chains crowd out local businesses, including grocers, reducing the availability of fresh, healthy food.

By Joy DiazFebruary 12, 2019 11:40 am

You may have noticed a lot more dollar stores than you did just a few years ago. Since 2011, numbers of the discount stores have increased nationwide to about 30,000, up from about 20,000. Now, a new report says there are more dollar stores than Walmarts and McDonalds combined.

Marie Donahue is a researcher with the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She says dollar stores like Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Family Dollar are rapidly moving into rural and low-income communities, are having a negative impact on local businesses and don’t offer a suitable amount of fresh, healthy food options for people in these communities.

“Dollar stores … aren’t necessarily providing the same types of fresh and healthy food,” Donahue says “So the impacts on the food system is one that we’ve heard and documented.”

Donahue says local grocers often suffer when dollar stores arrive, even if they had successfully weathered the arrival of a Walmart or the recession in 2008.

“The independent grocers in some of these towns are seeing a drop of 30 percent of their sales,” she says.

Dollar stores often operate with fewer employees than other local businesses, Donahue says. A Dollar General store typically employs a nine-person staff, she says, while a local grocer might have an average of 14 people.

Some communities are pushing back against dollar stores, Donahue says. Mesquite, in North Texas, passed an ordinance limiting how close new locations could be to existing stores.

Donahue says that dollar stores are often the only place to buy groceries or other necessities in rural areas.

“We certainly acknowledge that they are appealing places to shop for communities and people that don’t have other options, but … we’re trying to thinking about ways to build stronger local economic power for communities,” Donahue says.  

Written by Shelly Brisbin.