DeKalb County extends temporary ban on dollar stores

DEKALB COUNTY — DeKalb County on Tuesday extended its temporary ban on new dollar stores.

The county commission unanimously passed a 180-day extension to its moratorium on “small box discount stores,” after officials and residents expressed concerns that a proliferation of dollar stores could have a negative impact on communities.

Dozens of residents attended a three-hour zoning meeting Tuesday night, where officials held a public hearing on the issue. The county first passed a 45-day moratorium on dollar stores in unincorporated DeKalb in December. The moratorium was set to expire at the end of the month.

“I'm not against box stores, but I’m against anything that is a detriment to my community,” Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson said at the meeting.

Residents who spoke in support of more regulation — or a permanent ban — said they believed dollar stores were negatively and disproportionately affecting black neighborhoods.

Commissioners said the extension will give researchers from Georgia State University time to conduct an in-depth study on the impact of dollar stores in DeKalb.

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It would also give officials the chance to draft long-term regulations for the businesses, which were defined as retail stores less than 16,000 square feet that sell convenience shopping goods at a price lower than traditional establishments.

Critics say stores like Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar contribute to food insecurity in “food deserts” where residents have limited access to grocery stores that sell fresh food. Some officials and residents worry dollar stores could discourage larger grocery stores from opening nearby.

Across DeKalb, there are 70 dollar stores selling discount goods, packaged foods and limited cold or frozen groceries.

“In south and unincorporated DeKalb, it’s like, one day it’s a vacant lot, the next day it’s a dollar store,” Cochran-Johnson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month.

Stonecrest, one of DeKalb’s largest cities, has about 54,000 residents served by nearly a dozen dollar stores. In November, the city passed a total ban on future small box discount stores.

“You’ve seen your last dollar store in Stonecrest,” Mayor Jason Lary previously told the AJC. The proposal to ban the stores sprouted from concerns from residents that the businesses do not provide enough fresh food options and give off a bad image, he said.

Representatives for the dollar store companies said they help neighborhoods by selling groceries and other goods at discounted prices. A spokeswoman for Dollar General previously called the ordinances in Stonecrest and other cities “restrictive” and disappointing.

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GSU researcher Dean Dabney will lead the study for the county and plans to look into the effect of dollar stores on crime, property values and the local economy, officials said. The county has not yet set an exact amount for how much the study will cost.

The issue of dollar store regulation is quickly becoming a national one. Cities across the country — including Birmingham, Alabama, Fort Worth, Texas and Oklahoma City — have passed legislation this year that regulates the industry, prohibiting the opening of a new dollar store within a certain distance of an existing one.

Dollar stores have boomed in American communities over the last decade, according to Jerry Shannon, a University of Georgia professor who has researched food deserts and the spread of dollar stores. Since 2011, Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar have grown from 20,000 stores to nearly 30,000 in 2018, with thousands of future store openings planned, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

This report was written by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution