Dollar Stores May Do Low-Income Areas More Harm Than Good

Dollar Tree Stores

The bargain-priced retailers provide little in the way of fresh food and kill local, independent grocery stores

This story was originally published on Civil Eats.

Today, there are more dollar stores in the United States than all Walmarts and Starbucks combined. These low-priced “small-box” retailers, like Dollar General, offer little to no fresh food — yet they feed more Americans than either Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, and are gaining on the country’s largest food retailers.

Detailing the explosion of dollar stores in rural and low-income areas, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) recently released a report that shows how these retailers exacerbate economic and public health disparities. The report makes the case that dollar stores undercut small rural grocers and hurt struggling urban neighborhoods by staving off full-service markets.

ILSR also argues that the proliferation of dollar stores is the latest outgrowth of an increasingly concentrated grocery sector, where the top four chains — Walmart, Kroger, Ahold-Delhaize, and Albertsons — sell 44 percent of all groceries, and Walmart alone commands a quarter of the market. These dominant chain stores have decimated independent retailers and divested from rural and low-income areas, as well as communities of color.

“Earlier trends in big box store [growth] are making this opening for dollar stores to enter,” says Marie Donahue, one of the report’s authors. “We’re seeing a widening gap of inequality that’s a result of wealth being extracted from communities and into corporate headquarters… Dollar stores are really concentrating in communities hit hardest by the consequences of economic concentration.”

“Before this report, I had no idea that dollar stores were proliferating in this way,” says Dr. Kristine Madsen, Faculty Director of the Berkeley Food Institute. But, she adds, “it doesn’t surprise me that these incredibly cheap stores may be the only choice for people [who] may be choosing between medicine and rent and food.”

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