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Athens News Matters: Dollar Stores and Retailer Redlining

Since the 2008 recession, discount stores, or dollar stores - like Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Dollar Tree – have mushroomed across the country, beginning in the Deep South and spreading throughout the US. And now, while the COVID-19 pandemic has left many sectors of the economy in a shambles, those same dollar stores are seeing booming profits.
Those profits are good for shareholders, but the proliferation of these stores may be having an adverse effect on the neighborhoods they serve. More than that, the location of those stores may have racial undertones, according to a University of Georgia researcher.
Dr. Jerry Shannon is an assistant professor of geography at UGA, and for the past few years, he has studied dollar stores and the communities around them. In a recent publication, Dollar Stores, Retailer Redlining, and the Metropolitan Geographies of Precarious Consumption, Shannon says that the location of dollar stores in urban areas can be directly correlated to communities of color.
“Even when you’re controlling for income, there’s a really strong connection to patterns of racial segregation as well,” Shannon said. “In African-American neighborhoods, we see somewhere between 25 and 30 percent closer distances to dollar stores, even when compared to white neighborhoods with comparable economic characteristics.”
Dollar stores have enjoyed a 62 percent growth since 2008, according to Shannon, and with that growth has come greater scrutiny on those businesses. Some municipalities have instituted moratoriums to stop new dollar store construction, and other local governments are considering similar moves.
Among the concerns sparked by dollar stores are whether they are giving the communities in which they are located as much as they are taking. That is a concern that Shannon shares.
“Dollar stores are really easy to set up and take down,” he said. “But they’re not locally based. The profits are going up the ladder to the corporate office. They’re not staying in the community, and so if we think about these as community development tools, they’re not really contributing some of those multiplier effects that you’d get with a more locally owned business.”
Shannon says that dollar stores serve a short-term good, but may be more problematic, especially for economically fragile communities of color, in the long run.
“For many folks in these neighborhoods, dollar stores are a really vital resource in the short term to get the things that they need for today,” he said. “But at the same time, I think in the bigger picture, they’re incredibly problematic, because they don’t make the kinds of investments in communities, they don’t provide the kinds of jobs that get people out of being in precarious circumstances, and in many ways, they have every incentive to continue the system that they’re profiting from.”

Alexia Ridley joined WUGA as Television and Radio News Anchor and Reporter in 2013. When WUGA TV concluded operations, she became the primary Reporter for WUGA Radio. Alexia came to Athens from Macon where she served as the News Director and show host for WGXA TV. She's a career journalist and Savannah native hailing from the University of Michigan. However, Alexia considers herself an honorary UGA DAWG!
Martin Matheny was promoted to Program Director and Content Strategist on July 1, 2022. He has served as the Executive Producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters', and he covers local government for WUGA News. He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on WUGA at 10pm. 'Night Music' can also be heard statewide on the GPB Classical stream Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm. As part of 'Athens News Matters' Martin works with student interns to help cultivate the next generation of Public Media rock stars! In his spare time Martin is an amateur book binder and freelance musician who frequently performs with Big Band Athens playing bass trombone. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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