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January 4, 2019  

What the Explosion of the Dollar Store Says About the State of Our Cities

January 4, 2019

For the last quarter century plus, urbanists and localism advocates alike have decried Walmart and its big box brethren, particularly when it comes to their impact on our cities’ financial health. But when was last time you heard someone rant about the rise of the dollar store?

That’s because, for a lot of us, these micro-chains might not seem so bad. They aren’t trying to be the kind of everything store that puts every mom-and-pop store under the sun out of business; you’ll never buy a lawn mower at your local Dollar General. They don’t gobble up land and deliver the kind of catastrophically low tax value per acre that pushes our towns into decline—or at least, they aren’t quite as bad on paper as the behemoth Costco. And in some cases, dollar stores seem to fill essential community needs in urban food deserts and thinly populated rural communities where a full-service grocery might not make sense; even if they don’t have fresh food, those discount-aisle cans of soup are certainly better than nothing, right?

But according to a new report from the Institute for Local Self Reliance, the dollar store model isn’t just another cheap place to pick up toilet paper. It’s a symptom of some of the most pernicious forms of neighborhood decline—and, ILSR argues, it’s speeding that decline in a race to extract the last traces of wealth from failing communities. In this episode of Upzoned, Chuck and Kea dig into ILSR’s findings, and talk about where they agree (and don’t) with the institute’s policy prescriptions that would end the dollar store scourge. It’s a fascinating take on a nuanced problem, and a nice teaser for our upcoming webcast with ILSR co-director Stacy Mitchell.

Then in the downzone, Chuck and Kea talk about the media they enjoyed over the holiday break. For Chuck, it was all about spending time curled up watching movies with family, from Mary Poppins Returns to a snuggly Harry Potter movie marathon. For Kea, it meant traveling to visit family in Baltimore, and making some time for a jaunt on Baltimore’s much-talked-about incremental bike lane and a trip to the very trippy American Visionary Art Museum.