Dollar Stores Are Taking Over the Grocery Business

Cival Eats

Dollar Stores Are Taking Over the Grocery Business, and It’s Bad News for Public Health and Local Economies

A new report shows growth of dollar stores in low-income and rural communities furthers inequity and pushes out local businesses.

Outside a Dollar General in Fort Hancock, Texas. (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)


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.

A Dollar General in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo credit: <a href="">Taber Andrew Bain</a>)

A Dollar General in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo credit: Taber Andrew Bain)

“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.”

Dollar General did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

Profiting Off Customers in “Food Deserts”

Two companies, Dollar Tree (which acquired Family Dollar in 2015) and Dollar General, have expanded their footprint from just under 20,000 stores in 2010 to nearly 30,000 stores in 2018, with plans to open yet another 20,000 stores in the near future. Dollar General alone opens roughly three stores a day.

Most of these new stores are in urban and rural neighborhoods where residents don’t often have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2015, in fact, Dollar Tree and Dollar General represented two-thirds of all new stores in “food deserts,” defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as low-income areas where a third or more of residents live far from a full-service grocery store. Dollar General predominantly targets rural areas, though it s beginning to compete with Family Dollar, which is ubiquitous in urban food deserts.

Profiting off these left-behind places is baked into dollar stores’ business plan. In 2016, low-income shoppers represented 21 percent of Dollar General’s customers but 43 percent of their sales. Dollar General executives publicly described households making under $35,000 and reliant on government assistance as their “Best Friends Forever.” When discussing growing rural-urban inequality, Dollar General’s CEO said “the economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,” i.e., more struggling rural families.

Undercutting Independent Grocery Stores

Some, including dollar-store executives themselves, argue that a low-cost retailer seeking to go where no one else will benefits underserved communities. But ILSR argues that dollar stores are not a true solution to hunger or food insecurity. Furthermore, the group says, they do nothing to promote food sovereignty, or people’s right to control the production and distribution of their own food.

Inside a Dollar General store in Eldred, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Random Retail)

Inside a Dollar General store in Eldred, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Random Retail)

“To the extent that dollar stores are filling, in some ways, a need in communities, I think that is true in the short term,” says Donahue. “But really our research is demonstrating … those foods aren’t as good quality as full-service grocers or independent local stores, which may be able to connect to local farmers and the larger food system.”

Dollar stores sell predominantly shelf-stable and packaged foods. Four-hundred-and-fifty Dollar General locations are experimenting with an expanded refrigerator section to respond to a demand for more fresh fruits and vegetables. But, to date, the fresh and frozen offerings that do exist in these stores consist of processed meats, dairy products, and frozen meals. In other words, customers don’t have the same wide selection as they do in a traditional full-service grocery store.

“Grocery stores have more variety and a higher quantity of healthy foods than do dollar stores,” says Dr. David Procter, director of the Rural Grocery Initiative, a program of Kansas State University’s Center for Engagement and Community Development.

Despite their reputation, dollar stores don’t provide the best deals either. They often sell products in smaller quantities to keep a low price tag and draw in cash-strapped buyers. But when comparing per-ounce prices to a traditional grocery store, dollar store customers tend to pay more. Reporting by The Guardian found that the prorated cost of dollar store milk cartons comes to $8 per gallon, for example.

Dollar store customers do, however, find genuine value in things like greeting cards, pasta, coat hangers, and other everyday home goods. But this very cost-cutting is what makes dollar stores uniquely brutal competitors for smaller independent grocers.

“There’s very little money made on all kinds of segments of the [independent] grocery store, but where [grocers] do make their most money … is in paper goods and dry goods,” explains Procter. “That is really the heart of Dollar General … and it’s cutting into the largest profit area of the grocery store, that’s the real challenge.”

  • Support Civil Eats Today!

    Support from readers like you is what keeps Civil Eats going.
    Please consider making a year-end donation or signing up for an annual subscription if you haven’t already.
    Thank you from the Civil Eats team!

By sucking away this source of revenue, dollar stores tend to drive out the few independent grocers that remain, especially in rural areas. ILSR’s report found that “it’s typical for sales [at local grocery stores] to drop by about 30 percent after a Dollar General opens.”

Additionally, a survey by the Rural Grocery Initiative found that competition from large chain stores is the single largest challenge facing independent rural grocers. In the ’90s, Walmart was their main challenger; now Dollar General is moving in where even Walmart wouldn’t go, pushing out more local businesses.

The Benefit of—and Fight for—Small, Local Stores

Residents lose more than fresh foods when their local grocery store disappears. They lose jobs, local investment, and a voice in their food choices.

According to federal data, small independent grocers employ nearly twice as many people per store when compared to dollar stores. “When you have a hometown grocer owned by people who are committed to that community, not only are all the decisions made locally, but all of the profits stay in that town,” says Procter. “Some of the money that’s being generated in Dollar General stores is going to their headquarters in Tennessee, and the decisions about whether or not that [store] stays open or what they offer is being made by out-of-state corporate decision makers.”

A Dollar Tree store in Cheshire, Conn. (Photo credit: Mike Mozart)

A Dollar Tree store in Cheshire, Conn. (Photo credit: Mike Mozart)

In addition to undercutting existing stores, the proliferation of dollar stores can shut out new entrants. This is a particular concern in low-income urban areas and communities of color. ILSR’s report features the case of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where there’s a 14-year life expectancy gap between residents in the predominantly Black north Tulsa neighborhood and residents in the predominantly white south Tulsa neighborhood. ILSR found that dollar stores have “concentrated in [Tulsa] census tracts with more African American residents,” and community members are not happy about it.

“I don’t think it’s an accident they proliferate in low socio-economic and African American communities,” Tulsa City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper told ILSR. “That proliferation makes it more difficult for the full-service, healthy stores to set up shop and operate successfully.”

However, Tulsa’s story also provides a glimpse of hope into what some communities can do to halt the invasion of dollar stores. Hall-Harper worked to pass zoning ordinances that would limit dollar store development and encourage full-service grocers to set up shop. She rallied residents to protest the opening of a new Dollar General and join city council meetings to show support for a temporary dollar store moratorium. City council passed the moratorium and the zoning changes seven months later. North Tulsa will soon have a new grocery store, operated by Honor Capital, a veteran-owned company that has a food-access mission. Rural communities in Kansas have similarly organized and leveraged city council to halt a proposed Dollar General.

“It’s great to see a community really fight for this ordinance and show up to public meetings and hearings and challenge those traditional systems that would have just approved development for more dollar stores in the area,” says Donahue.

This 15-year-old activist just called out world leaders for their global inaction on climate change.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
December 14, 2018

“You say you love your children above all else, yet you are stealing their futures right before their very eyes,” – This 15-year-old activist just called out world leaders for their global inaction on climate change.

15-year-old Climate Activist Calls Out World Leaders for Inaction

"You say you love your children above all else, yet you are stealing their futures right before their very eyes," – This 15-year-old activist just called out world leaders for their global inaction on climate change.

Posted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Friday, December 14, 2018

Jim Carrey’s latest artwork – If there’s a hell…..

Now an innocent seven-year-old girl has died of medical neglect because of Trump’s sadism at the border. If there’s a Hell…

December 14, 2018

Claire McCaskill Says There Are ‘Too Many Embarrassing Uncles’ in Senate

NowThis Politics shared a post.
December 15, 2018

The Senate ‘puts the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunction”

Claire McCaskill Says There Are ‘Too Many Embarrassing Uncles’ in Senate in Farewell Remarks

Claire McCaskill Says There Are 'Too Many Embarrassing Uncles' in Senate in Farewell Remarks

Some seriously tough love from Sen. Claire McCaskill as she prepares to leave office: '[The Senate] just doesn't work as well as it used to.'

Posted by NowThis Election on Friday, December 14, 2018

Ryan Zinke Is Leaving Interior Department

New York Times

By Julie Turkewitz and Coral Davenport     December 15, 2018
Mr. Zinke had been the subject of at least a half-dozen federal investigations, one of which was recently referred to the Justice Department.CreditCreditCliff Owen/Associated Press.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a key figure in President Trump’s sweeping plan to reshape the nation’s environmental framework, resigned under pressure on Saturday as he faces numerous ethics investigations into his business dealings, travel and policy decisions.

“Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation.” The president said he would name a replacement this coming week.

Mr. Zinke is the latest Trump official to exit an administration plagued by questions of ethical conflict. And his departure comes as Mr. Trump has begun a shake-up in his administration. In early November, the president fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and last weekend he announced that his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was leaving.

In one of the final acts of Mr. Kelly’s tenure, his team told Mr. Zinke that he should leave by year’s end or risk being fired in a potentially humiliating way, two people familiar with the discussion said.

Mr. Trump has been looking at replacing a number of other cabinet officials. He has been telling associates for weeks that the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, will be leaving now that the midterm elections are over, and he has also frequently complained about Betsy DeVos, the education secretary. The homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, is also seen as likely to depart soon.

But Mr. Trump is aware that the confirmation processes for any new nominees are likely to be more contentious in the second half of his term, as he faces re-election.

Mr. Zinke, a former Montana congressman and member of the Navy SEAL’s best known for riding an Irish sport horse through Washington on his first day in office, oversaw mineral extraction and conservation on roughly 500 million acres of public land. He had become the subject of several federal investigations, one of which his department’s top watchdog has referred to the Justice Department, a potential step toward a criminal investigation.

The inquiries include an examination of a real estate deal involving Mr. Zinke’s family and a development group backed by the Halliburton chairman, David J. Lesar. Mr. Zinke stood to benefit from the deal, while Mr. Lesar’s oil services company stood to benefit from Mr. Zinke’s decisions on fossil fuel production.

Mr. Zinke has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. “I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together,” he said on Twitter. “However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations.”

Mr. Trump had tolerated the seemingly endless drips of scandal surrounding Mr. Zinke in part because he liked him personally and in part because his focus on the cabinet was concentrated on his desire to oust Mr. Sessions.

At the same time, though, Mr. Trump disliked the bad press that was amassing for Mr. Zinke, given how it reflected on him personally. And as the incoming House Democratic majority made clear that Mr. Zinke would be a prime target, Mr. Trump’s aides convinced him that the time had come to shove out Mr. Zinke.

A few months ago, the White House Counsel’s Office indicated to some West Wing aides that officials would be less likely to be subpoenaed by the new House majority if they left before the new Congress was sworn in in January. That has helped speed up the departures of several.

“This is no kind of victory, but I’m hopeful that it is a genuine turning of the page,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, who as the incoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee has repeatedly tangled with Mr. Zinke. He added, “The next interior secretary should respect the American people’s desire for strong environmental standards and an end to corporate favoritism.”

Mr. Zinke’s exit follows that of the other major architect of the Trump administration’s environmental policies, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Pruitt, also known for his aggressive rollback of environmental regulations, resigned in July amid questions about alleged spending abuses, first-class travel and cozy relationships with lobbyists. Among other actions, Mr. Pruitt came under fire for reaching out to the chief executive of Chick-fil-A with the intent of helping his wife open a franchise.

Beyond examining the real estate deal, the Interior Department’s inspector general had faulted Mr. Zinke for allowing his wife, Lola, to travel in government vehicles, contrary to department policy, and chided him for using $12,000 in taxpayer money to take a charter plane after a talk to a hockey team owned by one of his biggest donors.

The inspector general has also been examining the secretary’s decision to block two Native American tribes from opening a casino in Connecticut after his office received heavy lobbying from MGM Resorts International. The entertainment giant had been planning its own casino not far from the proposed tribal one.

Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said Mr. Zinke’s actions had sometimes been overshadowed by Mr. Pruitt’s more obvious fumbles. That let the secretary operate in an “ethical Wild West,” she said.

“There are these laws and these ethical norms that are being blown to bits by these cabinet secretaries,” Ms. Marsco said. “And that’s the pattern, the problem, that keeps us up at night.”

You’re Hired! You’re Fired! Yes, the Turnover at the Top of the Trump Administration Is … “Unprecedented.”

Since President Trump’s inauguration, White House staffers and cabinet officials have left in firings and resignations, one after the other.

The federal investigations follow several other examinations of Mr. Zinke’s behavior. He has been criticized for claiming on dozens of occasions that he is a geologist, though he has never held a job as one. When he was a candidate for Congress, campaign finance experts questioned whether it was legal for him to benefit from a super PAC that he had created. And as a Navy SEAL, he admitted to improperly billing the government $211 for a trip home to Montana, something that two admirals told The New York Times prevented him from rising to senior levels in the Navy.

Mr. Zinke’s resignation, rather than an end to his pro-fossil fuel policies, quite likely signals a passing of the playbook. Mr. Zinke’s deputy, David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, is expected to step in as acting head of the department.

Mr. Zinke, 57, grew up in Whitefish, Mont., a timber and tourism town at the edge of Glacier National Park. When he took charge of the Interior Department, he promised that his youth in the West would help him balance conservation and extraction on the land in his care. Much of that land is in the West, and it includes the national parks and monuments that have become the nation’s environmental icons.

With his flashy leadership style and aggressive approach to deregulation, Mr. Zinke had largely escaped the public thrashing that Mr. Trump has directed at other cabinet members. But in recent weeks the president had signaled that the secretary’s tenure might be coming to end, possibly as a result of the ethics inquiries.

“I do want to study whatever is being said,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference on Nov. 7, referring to the investigations into Mr. Zinke. “I think he’s doing an excellent job, but we will take a look at that, and we’ll probably have an idea on that in about a week.”

Mr. Zinke was considered a surprise choice for the position. He had reportedly gained favor with Donald Trump Jr., because, like the president’s son, he is an avid game hunter.

He ran the office with a swaggering flair that won him the admiration of the president and conservative Westerners, many of whom applauded his effort to move major department operations to places like Denver or Boise, Idaho. But his style also drew derision from the environmental community and the quiet mockery of many career staff members in his own agency.

In Washington, he flew a special interior secretary flag above the Interior building when he was present, and he often skipped a coat and tie for fishing shirts and boots. Beyond the capital, he hiked and rode across landscapes in a cowboy hat, even as he pushed plans to drastically reduce monument boundaries.

In June, Politico reported that Mr. Lesar, the Halliburton chairman, was lending financial backing to a major development in Mr. Zinke’s hometown, Whitefish, that would significantly raise the value of property owned by Mr. Zinke. The development would include a hotel, shops and a brewery, and Mr. Zinke’s wife had pledged in writing to allow the developer to build a parking lot that would help make the project possible. The land for the potential lot is owned by a foundation created by Mr. Zinke.

Because Halliburton is the nation’s largest oil services company, and because Mr. Zinke regulates the oil industry on public land, the deal raised questions as to whether it constituted a conflict of interest. Mr. Zinke’s schedule also showed that he had hosted Mr. Lesar and a developer involved with the hotel-brewery project in his secretarial office in 2017.

In response, three Democrats sent a letter to the Interior Department’s top watchdog, Mary L. Kendall, requesting an investigation into whether Mr. Zinke had used his position as secretary for personal financial gain. In July, Ms. Kendall complied, opening an investigation. In October, her department forwarded at least one inquiry to the Justice Department.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Mr. Zinke, has said that the secretary did nothing wrong and that he resigned from his charitable foundation’s board of directors before the deal was made.

Before Mr. Zinke joined the Trump administration, he often called himself a conservative conservationist. But as secretary, he quickly became one of the chief proponents of Mr. Trump’s energy-first agenda, promoting policies that seek to open the East Coast to offshore drilling, weaken the standards of the Endangered Species Act and shrink two national monuments, constituting the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.

Last year under Mr. Zinke, the United States offered up 12.8 million acres of federally controlled oil and gas parcels for lease, triple the average offered during President Barack Obama’s second term, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

These policies won Mr. Zinke favor with Mr. Trump, who had made promotion of the fossil fuel industry a key part of his campaign platform, as well as from the oil and gas companies that had increasingly made up Mr. Zinke’s donor base as a Montana politician.

His policies have angered environmentalists, who have filed lawsuits trying to block these plans. Many have argued that Mr. Zinke has turned his back on the nation’s environmental heritage just as dire news about climate change has made land, water and air protection increasingly urgent.

The likely replacement by Mr. Bernhardt of his former boss in an acting capacity echoes events that followed the resignation of Mr. Pruitt at the E.P.A. Mr. Pruitt, once a favorite of Mr. Trump’s for many of the same reasons as Mr. Zinke, was replaced in an acting capacity by his deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist with a low profile and a deep knowledge of the agency he ran and the regulations he sought to undo.

While Mr. Zinke spent his tenure as the face of many of the Trump administration’s efforts, many on the inside saw Mr. Bernhardt as the effective manager who was able to push policies through. Mr. Bernhardt, with years of experience in the George W. Bush administration, and as a former lawyer and lobbyist for some of the nation’s largest oil companies, brings a deep insider’s knowledge to his job that Mr. Zinke lacked. His former legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Halliburton.

Since his Senate confirmation last summer, Mr. Bernhardt has generated criticism from environmental and government watchdog groups that his new role will create a conflict of interest, as he oversees proposals that could directly benefit his former clients.

Maggie Haberman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.

7-year-old immigrant girl dies after Border Patrol arrest

Associated Press

7-year-old immigrant girl dies after Border Patrol arrest
Associated Press        December 14, 2018

Wisconsin Republicans couldn’t accept that Scott Walker lost an election

Vice News posted an episode of Vice News Tonight
December 14, 2018

Wisconsin Republicans couldn’t accept that Scott Walker lost an election.

So they did this. And he just signed it into law.

Wisconsin Republicans Are Trying to Strip Power From Newly Elected Democrats

Wisconsin Republicans couldn't accept that Scott Walker lost an election.So they did this. And he just signed it into law.

Posted by VICE News on Friday, December 14, 2018

Scott Walker Signs Wisconsin GOP’s Massive Power Grab Into Law

The Border Wall Is Going to Be an Environmental Disaster


The Border Wall Is Going to Be an Environmental Disaster

Luke Darby             December 13, 2018
The Border Wall Is Going to Be an Environmental Disaster
The Supreme Court has decided that the Trump administration can ignore more than two dozen public health and environmental laws to build the wall faster.

Donald Trump made it clear earlier this week that he was willing to wage all out war on the U.S. government if that’s what it takes to get them to give him money to pay for his border wall, his biggest vanity project since whatever last garish building he slapped his name on. While he hasn’t managed to wrest funding from either Congress or Mexico, the administration has already started moving forward with private land seizures. They’ve also, it turns out, been quietly exempting themselves from environmental and public health laws in the hopes of speeding up construction.

According to The Guardian, the most diverse butterfly sanctuary in the country, the 100-acre National Butterfly Center in Missions, TX, is in the way of Trump’s wall. Normally, the federal government wouldn’t be allowed to cut through and demolish sections of the sanctuary, but the Supreme Court ruled last week that the administration had the right to waive 28 laws that would otherwise have prevented or slowed construction. Now, it’s likely to be bulldozed.

A small sample of the laws that the Court decided the Trump administration doesn’t have to follow include: the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This seems extreme, but it’s now common Republican ideology that laws and regulations that protect the environment and public health are overly burdensome obstacles for businesses, and it should be up to the free market to determine who does and doesn’t have access to things like drinking water.

But there’s an even more insidious aspect to how and where portions of the wall will be built. From the Guardian:

“This is not just that they will drive ocelots to extinction,” said [Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club Borderland team], referring to the critically endangered wild cat found in the Rio Grande Valley. “Families trying to come into this country will be pushed into the desert to die.”

“Border walls are death sentences for wildlife and humans alike,” said Amanda Munro of the Southwest Environmental Center, an organization that works to restore and protect native wildlife and habitats. “They block wild animals from accessing the food, water and mates they need to survive. They weaken genetic diversity, fragment habitat, and trap animals in deadly floods. At the same time, they drive desperate asylum seekers to risk their lives in the unforgiving desert.”

That’s the point, or course. Trump is a fan of using punishing deterrents, and has admitted himself that his family separation policy was designed to horrify immigrants into not trying to enter the U.S. And the Border Patrol has long had an unofficial stance that it’s preferable for people to die crossing the desert than to make it across and be arrested, as shown by video evidence of officers destroying water left throughout the border region to keep migrants from dying of dehydration.

If the administration is willing to so casually engage in atrocities at the border, it should come as no surprise that they’re fine with ignoring laws meant to keep both people and the environment safe and healthy.

Betsy DeVosto forced to cancel $150 M in student loan debt after losing court battle

Thomas Barrabi                  December 14, 2018

The U.S. Department of Education will cancel $150 million in student loans after a judge dismissed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ bid to block an Obama-era rule on the matter.

The debt forgiveness applies to about 15,000 student borrowers who were eligible for “closed school” loan discharges. Roughly half of the canceled debt belongs to students who attended Corinthian Colleges, a chain of for-profit schools that shuttered in April 2015, with the remaining debt tied to students who attended schools that closed from 2013 to 2018.

“On Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, we will begin emailing borrowers to inform them that the company that handles billing and other services related to their federal student loans will discharge some or all of the borrower’s loans within the next 30–90 days,” the department said in a press release.

DeVos had sought to block efforts to cancel debts for students who attended schools that closed or the Corinthian Colleges, which were accused of providing inflated job placement statistics to lure attendees. A group of 18 states and Washington, D.C., successfully challenged DeVos’ effort, and a judge ordered the loan discharges to proceed last September.

DeVos had argued that the Obama-era mandate made it too easy for students to escape their debt, at the expense of colleges and taxpayers, Politico reported.

Federal officials fined Corinthian Colleges $30 million over the misleading statistics in April 2015. The for-profit chain closed shortly thereafter.