Are dollar stores no longer welcome in rural America?

Rural communities in Louisiana and Oregon ban dollar stores, like Dollar General and family Dollar, citing economic and safety concerns - Photo by ConsumerAffairs

Two communities have taken action to ban them

It might seem that rural communities with few grocery and shopping options would welcome dollar stores that increasingly offer food items. But there’s growing evidence that’s not exactly true.

Recently, two communities – one in Louisiana and one in Oregon – have taken steps to ban or restrict the growth of dollar stores after they spread rapidly in the last decade.

Joseph, Ore., in the rural eastern part of the state, passed an ordinance banning “formula” stores from operating in the city. A formula store is one operated by a chain with “prescribed standards and features, particularly for exterior color schemes, signs or architectural design.” 

While the ordinance doesn’t refer to dollar stores, in Joseph it’s a poorly kept secret that the ordinance was drafted with one “formula” store in mind. Erika Polmar, co-founder of No Dollar General, told that the community reacted quickly to a rumor that Dollar General planned to open a store in the town.

“The city of Joseph got a lot of pressure at their most recent planning commission meeting and the City Hall was being flooded with calls and emails from citizens saying that they wanted to make sure that the city was protected,” she said. “Thankfully, the city council and the city administrators listened and took action very quickly.”

Police powers

In rural Ponchatoula Parish, La., local planners blocked a Dollar General store’s application by using its police power to protect the community's general health, safety and welfare. County officials claimed that dollar stores are frequent targets of robberies, posing a threat to consumers who happened to be in the store at the time.

But the opposition may be grounded more in economics. In Joseph, Ore., and Wallowa County, officials have expressed concern that Dollar Stores hurt local businesses – a charge also leveled at Walmart in recent years.

“We want smaller stores, locally owned stores, specialty boutiques, mom and pop shops,” Joseph Mayor Lisa Collier told the Wallowa County Chieftain. “We want to protect that commerce (so that) it will be local.”

Dollar General has yet to comment publicly on its two latest setbacks but could challenge them in court.

The rural pushback comes as dollar stores appear to be struggling. Dollar Tree announced earlier this year it plans to close 1,000 Family Dollar stores. In April, 99 Cents Only announced it was shuttering all 371 locations, blaming rising levels of theft, inflation, and changes in consumer behavior.

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