I had always thought dollar stores were a nice thing to have in an urban neighborhood, but recently they have become controversial. Some cities have tried to limit their growth, based on the theory that
“they impede opportunities for grocery stores and other businesses to take root and grow.” This is supposedly a terrible thing because real grocery stores sell fresh vegetables and dollar stores don’t. In other words, anti-dollar store groups believe that people won’t buy nutritious food without state coercion, and that government must therefore drive competing providers of food out of business.
Recently, I was at the train stop for Central Islip, Long Island, a low-income, heavily Hispanic community 40 miles from Manhattan. There is a Family Dollar almost across the street from the train stop, and guess what is right next to it, in the very same strip mall? You guessed it- a grocery store! *
It seems to me that dollar stores and traditional grocery stores might actually be complementary, rather than competing uses. You can get a lot of non-food items and a few quick snacks at a dollar store, and then get a more varied food selection at the grocery next door. So it seems to me that the widespread villification of dollar stores may not be completely fact-based.
Having said that, I’m not ready to say that my theory is right 100 percent of the time. Perhaps in a very small, isolated town (or its urban equivalent), there might be just enough buying power to support a grocery store or a dollar store, but not both. But I suspect that this is a pretty rare scenario in urban neighborhoods.
*If you want to see what I saw, go on Google Street View to 54 and 58 E. Suffolk Avenue in Central Islip.