The War On Dollar Stores

The problem–well, one of them—with trying to control how other people choose to live their lives is that nobody’s smart enough to do it without making things worse. Still,a lot of sociologists and politicians think they are smart enough.

Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Fort Worth, Birmingham, and Georgia’s DeKalb County have passed restrictions on dollar stores, and other communities are debating whether to follow their example, where laws and zoning regulations limit how many of these small stores can open within a particular area. Other laws dictate what they can and can’t sell, most notably fresh food. You see, the antipathy to dollar stores is based on the narrative pushed by activists that they saturate poor neighborhoods with cheap, over-processed food, squeezing out other retailers and lowering the quality of nutrition in poor communities. An analyst for the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes the argument, “When you have so many dollar stores in one neighborhood, there’s no incentive for a full-service grocery store to come in.” Dollar stores, like Dollar Tree and Dollar General, the researchers say, make neighborhoods seem poor, and scare away better stores,  “locking in poverty rather than reducing it,” as one told the Washington Post.

Ah! Poor nutrition  is the fault of dollar stores!


Once, academic researchers described poor urban neighborhoods as “food deserts.” The insufficient numbers of grocery stores, it was determined then, were the fault  of suburban shopping centers and the decline of mass transit. These food deserts  caused an epidemic of health problems  to the poor. In response, urban governments spent millions in subsidies to attract supermarket chains to these communities. Hundreds of new grocery stores opened in depressed areas around the country.

Nothing changed. Obviously, the real problem was dollar stores.

The dollar stores are just the most recent victims of woke researchers’ resistance to reality when it doesn’t fit their illusions. Recent research chews up the claim that unhealthy diets result from the lack of healthy food options. A research  paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that people didn’t buy healthier food even when they had shiny new supermarkets to shop in. “We can statistically conclude that the effect on healthy eating from opening new supermarkets was negligible at best,” the rsearchers wrote, and this was after studying grocery purchases in 10,000 households in former “food deserts” after supermarkets moved in. This  suggests that the theory that better food choices motivate people to eat better is, in technical terms, baloney.

“In the modern economy, stores have become amazingly good at selling us exactly the kinds of things we want to buy,” the paper explains. “Lower demand for healthy food is what causes the lack of supply.”

Are you surprised? I’m not. Getting people to eat more healthily requires teaching people  why a better diet is important,why simply tasting good is not the best argument for eating things, and why its worth the time and effort to eat a healthy diet. I know all about the importance of eating healthy foods. I’m not poor. Yet  I often choose quick frozen dishes I can microwave rather than preparing fresh vegetables, and it has nothing to do with dollar stores.  Six supermarkets are within 15 minutes of my house, and only one dollar store.

Americans are getting fatter and fatter; diabetes is becoming an epidemic, and for this we should punish—dollar stores?  Anything to resist assigning responsibility to where it really lies: the individuals, poor or rich, who choose what they put in their mouths, and how highly they prioritize healthy food over beer, drugs, or other things.

There is another factor that keeps supermarkets out of some communities: shoplifting. In their efforts to combat “over-incarceration,” many states, including my suddenly super-progressive state of Virginia, raised the amount of stolen merchandise necessary to qualify as a felony. At the same time, law enforcement declined to aggressively prosecute shoplifting. Surely the effect of this on supermarkets should be obvious. A Portland resident told the City-Journal,  In the Portland Oregon area the major grocery stores are being shoplifted out of existence. The Multnomah County courts don’t even prosecute shoplifters.”

Easily fixed, right?

Ban dollar stores.


Source: City-Journal



25 thoughts on “The War On Dollar Stores

  1. It is not just teaching the communities nutrition, but getting them to be willing to spend for it. Jack I watch my neighbors fill their carts with junk as you know I am currently on nutritional assistance, and my neighbors I watch them chose at the shoppers cheaper less nutritious options as they can make their dollar go further. I use a different plan I shop the sales and get basics at discount stores. But these people I find have not been educated to stretch their meager budgets. Every one is looking for some one to blame I use the dollar stores to get spices and toiletries. I might buy a bag of wise potato chips or Shasta diet soda but most of the food items there I will not put in my mouth. As they are diabetic nightmares. And I want to live. It is a mater. Of education and anyone who blames the dollar stores as the culprits are are you allude are fools. The food desserts are caused by grocery chains closing in those neighborhoods but I saw it happen in my own neighborhood the Safeway closed as it could not turn a profit, I had to check eggs as cartons were often missing some. The manager told me of how often things were stolen, in the cvs near me there are often open packages on shelves with half the contents missing. The dollar stores are providing a needed service that helps those honest people in their neighborhoods live within their meager budgets. The people that wish to blame them for the problems do not seem to realize that the problems lie much deeper. Until we can curb crime in these neighborhoods those that are honest but struggling will not have the resources they need come back into the area! Most people in those neighborhoods are good honest people, but the few that are not make it harder on them.

    • My grocery store seems to have the pre-made food, the junk food, the processed food, marked a little bit more expensive than the food items and ingredients I may have to prepare for myself but will be ultimately more nourishing.

      While some make the argument that poor people have to work more to survive and therefore don’t have time to prepare meals, I’m not convinced.

      I think there’s a lot going on here, and I wonder if some of the leading factors or forces driving these buying decisions is that the “poor” really aren’t all that poor and are making buying decisions that make them happier. I know junk food often tastes better to me.

      I also wonder if there’s a weak correlation between the kinds of people who find themselves in abject poverty and the kinds of people who don’t want to expend 20-30 minutes preparing a meal?

      • The same kind of people who don’t want to spend 20-30 minutes making a meal may be the same kind of people who don’t want to work harder at their jobs or longer hours or find a job that requires more of them…even if it would result in more money.

    • That’s not a rebuttal. It’s a series of annectdotes that suggest so-called food deserts are self inflicted, but it ultimately concedes that there are large portions of cities without ready access to grocery stores. He also talks almost exclusively about rural areas having an innate difficulty accessing services, correctly calling a grocery twenty miles away not a crisis. He neglicts to consider, however, the unique challenge of city living where care ownership is more limited. A grocery store 5 miles away can easily be a hour’s bus ride away.

      What do you do with a housing agency that places people in housing with no ready access to groceries? There is a poor city in New Jersey that has big beautiful Walmart that refuses to allow buses into its lot. My friend could not afford groceries because it was $20 round trip Uber.

      To claim government intervention won’t help address the problem, as suggested by the article, is madness. Granted, most of that intervention is government getting out of its own way, but the solution is to advocate for such measures, not call it a debunked myth.

      • Great comment. As I finished reading your comment, the thought in my head was

        “Wouldn’t it be great if local governments looked at specific individual situations without trying to understand it in the context of a grand conspiracy?”

        Like, I get people want to treat the disease rather than the symptom…but can’t we also just treat symptoms until a cure for a disease is found? Hell, with colds, all you can do is treat the symptoms and wait for the disease to go away.

        It seems that local governments are pointing at grand problems as “unsolvable” throwing their hands up in the air and refusing to help communities on a case by case basis. I suspect by refusing to do ad-hoc symptom management, they’re building their case for some sweeping revolution. Meanwhile, generations of people come and go…waiting for the revolution in thought and behavior that never comes.

  2. In a nearby city is a large Dollar General grocery store. It has a large amount of fresh food. It’s quite popular with young families that I know. The German chain Aldi’s is also a must for those buying groceries on a limited budget. I don’t shop there often, but their baguettes that I have to “cook” for 10 minutes are amazing. The food police are part of the Bloomberg mindset that they know better than everyone else. It’s the essence of the bigotry of low expectations.

    My weight issues could be easily presumed to be bad diet and no exercise. They do not see see the 10k steps I do daily or the fruit I have for dessert. The reality is it’s not their business. It’s between my health care provider and me. If I want to have a diet soda I will. Drunk with a plastic straw.

  3. And how much of supermaket prices subsidize losses from theft? I know I would be reluctant to open a retail business if shoplifting is not treated like a crime. Perhaps random stuff disappearing fromm their cars or kitchen might remind them that shoplifting is NOT a victimless crime. Tiny groceries die from it.

  4. There seems to be an undercurrent in many anti-poverty crusades that if you just force poor people to pretend they’re rich, poverty wil just go away. Now, I don’t mean things like finishing high school or waiting until you’re married to have kids, that would be patronizing. I mean basically sweeping away the institutions they depend on and either plopping them down in an upper-middle class ecosystem and expecting them to navigate it, or else just hoping such an ecosystem will magically spring up in the vacuum they’ve created. You can see this with dollar stores. You see it with payday lending. You see it with minimum wage jobs being ‘helpfully’ boosted up past $15/hr (and being replaced with machines). You see it with low-income students being encouraged to take on big student loans for degrees with no value on the job market. Upper middle-class people can afford to invest six figures and four years on something with no promise of economic returns. They can afford to look down their noses at 20% loans, at $12/hr jobs, at frozen non-organic-gmo vegetables. Poor people can’t.

  5. Eating healthy on the cheap is quite easy actually. A can of cooked black beans, while unappetizing, is far healthier and cheaper than a McDonalds meal. You can drink unlimited water from the tap for pennies as well.

    • You’re on to something. It is little-known but you can set that can out on the window ledge to absorb the sunlight and heat up to the perfect eating temperature. No need for gas or electricity. In Winter, if you plan ahead, sleep with the cans to warm them up.

      Jay, you are obviously tending to open communism with the water argument. 🙂

  6. So we’re supposed to kill these small franchises because poor people shop there and some buy junk food. These businesses provide jobs for marginally educated people. I happily buy trash bags, greeting cards, and other items when the check out lines aren’t too long. In the old Soviet Union people would be dazzled by the variety of the things they could buy.

  7. We also have a problem with casinos and drugs. You might wonder how casinos fit into the ‘food desert’ and ‘food insecurity’. Well, poor people get food stamps. It is actually a lot of money. Each person gets ~$200/month for food, typically. This is somewhat more than I spend on food for my family. There should be no people with ‘food insecurity’. However, people sell these benefits for 1/4 to 1/2 their face value in the casino parking lots to gamble. They also sell them for $100/oz ‘medical’ marijuana and other drugs. The social workers from the schools tell us that roughly 1/4 of the kids only eat at school. They get calls on the weekends from kids who haven’t seen mom since Friday morning, it is now Sunday, and there is no food in the house.

    Yes, this is all due to Dollar Store.

  8. Americans are getting fatter and fatter; diabetes is becoming an epidemic, and for this we should punish—dollar stores? Anything to resist assigning responsibility to where it really lies: the individuals, poor or rich, who choose what they put in their mouths, and how highly they prioritize healthy food over beer, drugs, or other things.

    Well, here is a comparison issue. Here (in Colombia where I now reside) there is a huge sweet beverage industry nestled among the general bottle-industry (beer and alcohol drinks). As in the States, and as everywhere, these are beverages made with corn sweetener: fructose. This sweetener is a by-product of the corn industry. So, with an abundance of fructose *they* have to come up with ways to purvey it and sell it. And that is through the fabrication and sale of high-fructose beverages.

    Unfortunately, there is a high degree of ‘general ignorance’ in the culture here. There are many reasons for this but not the least one is that there is a lack of funds to provide ‘good education’. So the lower classes lack the benefits of knowledge (knowledge being power) and in many different areas suffer from it. And one area is in nutrition. So, these giant bottles of highly sweetened liquids are very popular and the industry is huge and very profitable.

    Private groups — either domestic or NGOs — have attempted to educate people through TV ads and other means. But the powerful beverage industries did not at all like this. Many of those activists for greater health awareness — who recommend drinking less or not drinking sugar beverages at all — have been threatened. The beverage industries have the economic power to advocate in favor of not educating people, and the government is in a bind because, ultimately, it is the government that has to assume the cost of caring for sick people (obese, diabetic, etc.)

    In the US — no doubt — the fast food industries and the sugar beverage industries have more money and mobilizing force to try to see to it that bad eating habits remain. They may not be able to *sell* their products to the better-educated classes but they still have power over the *lower orders*.

    I think that one has to come to understand that though it appears to be true that the individual is responsible for his and her self, the larger salient truth is that we do live within *systems* in which knowledge, as a form of power, is a contentious commodity. Whose *knowledge* will be presented? Whose *knowledge* will prevail? These are issues of power, essentially. You could say that the individual is ultimately responsible for all decisions that individual can or will make. But this would be a false statement (if one were honest). In fact people can be influenced by powerful rhetoric to do or believe things that are both wrong as well as against the interest of that individual. The individual is not, in fact, powerful in his and her original (ignorant) state.

    What I find interesting is how ‘conservative ideology’ makes this strong assertion that *the individual* has such decisive power, but in fact only some individuals have that power, and often the difference between knowledge and ignorance depends on other factors than mere *individuality*.

    A free individual is not the natural man. A free individual and one capable of free thought and free action is not the natural man. The free individual is a created being.

  9. “Lower demand for healthy food is what causes the lack of supply.”

    Love that quote…LOVE it.

    And it’s yet another problem that a socialist/totalitarian state could easily fix. Just intervene in food production, forcing companies to stop making unhealthy foods/snacks/desserts. Bernie Sanders – along with most Presidential (D for Socialist) candidates – would be all over this.

    Of course, the day Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls die is the day I die.

  10. I have encountered the food desert argument before in academia. It is utter non-sense. Almost all food deserts are in extremely sparsely populated areas or in extremely densely populated areas. Why? Because there is no room to develop a low margin high square footage grocery store in major city centers. Also, public transportation access to larger grocery outlets for the urban poor does not count and, therefore, they live in a food desert. Large grocery stores will never be developed in very sparsely populated areas. Ever driven to the north rim on the Grand Canyon? There is nothing and no one for tens of miles or how about eastern Wyoming north of Torrington? Nothing. Virtually no people, but cited as a food desert.

    The food desert argument is a way to attack capitalism as not providing equal access to all (which never was a thing) and how it is punishing the urban, people of color poor and the extremely rural. The urban poor portion is the real focus food desert balderdash to mingle capitalism and racism.

    I used to live in a town of less than 1,600 people. The only store with groceries willing to compete and operate there? Dollar General.

    By all means, let’s blame them and others like them.

    • ”There is nothing and no one for tens of miles or how about eastern Wyoming north of Torrington? Nothing. Virtually no people, but cited as a food desert.”

      If that’s the standard, our place in rural Iron County on Weber Lake qualifies.

      While there is Reinerio’s Italian Sausage ~ 12 miles away in Pence, it doesn’t provide all the food groups, which to me includes beer.

      The closest grocery stores are ~20 miles away in Hurley, WI (pop. ~1440) and sister city Ironwood, MI (pop. ~4900); both will shrink in this year’s census. It’s at least a 70 minute trip there and back just travel time; mostly highway and snake path county roads.

      Both have full service grocers: Hurley has a Pat’s IGA and Ironwood has a Super1, a big @$$ Walmart, and three Dollar (fill-in-the-blank) stores.

      We just anticipate our needs and keep enough on hand.

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