Fascinating piece in the New York Times about some resistance Dollar General is facing in one rural community to its plans to build a new store there.
"Anne Hartley’s brick house in Ebony, Va., overlooks windswept fields, a Methodist church, a general store and the intersection of two country roads, a pastoral setting that evokes an Edward Hopper painting or a faded postcard from the South.
"Now this scene is being threatened, Ms. Hartley said, by a plan to build what every small American town seems to have: a Dollar General.
"A descendant of one of Ebony’s founding families, Ms. Hartley says the discount store — which would be built next to her home — will create traffic problems in the area, with people drawn to the brand’s signature yellow sign and its aisles filled with inexpensive food and household staples.
"Beyond the store itself, Ms. Hartley and many others with ties to Ebony think it will open the door to additional development that will spoil the character of their tiny, rural community of about 230 people."
The story also focuses on local resident Jerry Jones, who "has strong feelings about Dollar General. He, too, grew up in Ebony and, for several years, was Ms. Hartley’s classmate at the local public school. He went on to manage grocery stores around southern Virginia and later owned a gas station in Ebony that sold freshly baked biscuits and deep-fried baloney burgers.
"Mostly retired now, Mr. Jones owns the land where the Dollar General would be built. He said the store would provide the county’s residents a convenient and affordable place to shop, while also generating sorely needed tax revenue."
And, some broader context:
"The dispute in Ebony, which has been going on for more than three years, is about planning and zoning, but it also touches on a deeper issue simmering in many parts of rural America, whether the disputes are about cellphone towers or snowmobile trails. What does 'country' mean to different people in a small community?
"In most places, Dollar General is winning. Across the United States, the company has made an aggressive push to permeate thousands of far-flung or impoverished communities with stores that, along with low prices, are criticized for their unhealthy food offerings and low-paid employees.
"An increasing number of these proposed dollar stores are leading to disputes, generating opponents in small towns and struggling cities. The retailer has been assailed by a think tank for the negative effects it has on small businesses and by the Biden administration for the unkempt condition of its stores.
"Yet, a vast majority of the proposed dollar stores are being built. One in three stores that opened in the United States in 2022 was a dollar store."
- KC's View:
It occurs to me that while Ebony has a general store and a Methodist church, there is no mention in the story of a trauma center being located there - which they're going to need.
Remember the CNN story from last week about how "some Dollar General workers and labor advocates are calling for stronger safety and health protections," arguing that "the company is failing to take basic precautions to prevent violence in its stores. Since 2014, there have been 49 people killed and 172 people injured at Dollar General stores, according to data from non-profit group Gun Violence Archive. A CNN investigation in 2020 found that at least six store employees died during armed robberies from 2016 to 2020."
And that doesn't account for the fact that Dollar General has been hit with some $21 million in fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for numerous safety issues, and has been added to OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Is it fair to say that a Dollar General will change the character if Ebony, Virginia? I don't know. I've never been there. But it does strike me as a legitimate debate that ought to take into account Dollar General's apparent willingness to be lackadaisical about worker safety, and figure that it is cheaper to pay the fines rather than invest in fixing its problems.