Family Dollar and Dollar General stores are notorious for their lack of safety for workers, crimes committed on their property, and how they help to increase lower economic conditions for the places they set up operations. The full article linked above is staggering to consider.
Because dollar stores are heavily concentrated in poor towns and neighborhoods, many middle- and upper-middle-class consumers are unaware of their ubiquity — or of the frequency of armed robberies and shootings. In 2017, the manager of a Dollar General in Baltimore, where I live, was shot and killed as he was closing up. But I discovered the pervasiveness of the problem while reporting elsewhere. In Dayton, Ohio, I got to know Jimmy Donald, who was working for a heating and air conditioning contractor while trying to start an organization to help ex-felons and others with troubled backgrounds, a category that included himself. Donald, who is 38, served in the Marines in Iraq. He then spent four years in prison, after being involved in the beating death of a man outside a Michigan bar, in 2004. He lived on the west side of Dayton, which is predominantly Black; as the area has lost several grocery stores, the dollar store chains have proliferated.
This correlation is not a coincidence, according to a 2018 research brief by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for small businesses. The stores undercut traditional grocery stores by having few employees, often only three per store, and paying them little. “While dollar stores sometimes ﬁll a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress,” the brief reported. “They’re a cause of it.”
There are now more than a dozen Family Dollars and Dollar Generals on Dayton’s west side. “In a lot of these areas, they’re the only stores around,” B. J. Bethel, who has reported on the chains for WDTN, the local NBC affiliate, told me. For robbers, he added, “it’s the only place to get cash.” Donald did much of his shopping at the stores, and each week he drove his mother to them to do her shopping as well. One day in Dayton, needing a winter hat, I stopped by a Dollar General at West Third Street and James H. McGee Boulevard, where Donald and his mother were making their way down an aisle. Goods spilled off the shelves, and carts were piled high with boxes waiting to be opened and stacked, giving the store an air of neglect.