To truly honor Black History Month, let’s see how the so-called area of Black Wall Street is doing nearly 100 years later. [As dollar stores move into cities, residents see a steep downside, Washington Post, 2-15-19]:
TULSA — Vanessa Hall-Harper, a lifelong resident of this city’s poorest area, has viewed the opening of dollar stores in recent years with trepidation. The stores were a reminder of the blight, she said, and they blocked grocers and others from opening. So when she was elected to the City Council, she fought back, ushering in restrictions on new stores.
“The community said, ‘We don’t want any more dollar stores,’ ” she said. “We need grocery stores, clothing, shoes — things that you need to live.”
Tulsa is one of several cities grappling with uncomfortable questions from the rise of dollar stores in urban America. These stores have gained attention as success stories in the country’s most economically distressed places — largely rural counties with few retail options. Two main chains, Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which owns Family Dollar), operate more than 30,000 stores nationally and plan to open thousands more, vastly outnumbering Walmarts and other retailers.
In cities, dollar stores trade in economic despair, with many residents saying they are a vital source of cheap staples. But as the stores cluster in low-income neighborhoods, some residents worry the stores deter other business, especially in neighborhoods without grocers or options for healthful food. The Institute for Self-Reliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, argued in a December report exploring the effect of dollar stores in Tulsa that “there’s growing evidence that these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress. They’re a cause of it.” Dollar stores rarely sell fresh produce or meats, but they can undercut grocery stores on prices of everyday items, often pushing them out of business.
In Tulsa and elsewhere, the questions are whether dollar stores are the last retail option for low-income America — and whether restrictions like Hall-Harper’s can make a difference.
The companies say their target customers depend on them for items as basic as toilet paper, especially in areas where no other retailers will venture.
“The Dollar General customer is in a permanent recession, and we want to help them,” its former chief executive Cal Turner Jr. said last year on Fox Business.Where dollar stores flourish
More than a century ago, a stretch of North Tulsa was dubbed “Black Wall Street” for its booming black-owned businesses. Much of that prosperity was wiped out during one of the worst episodes of racial violence in American history. In May 1921, a white mob set fire to hundreds of businesses and homes, killing as many as 300 people and scorching 40 blocks.
Many residents say the divide created by that massacre continues to this day. Development has largely shifted southward, including the wealthiest neighborhoods and ritziest shopping districts.
With fewer options for fresh food and health care, people in a North Tulsa Zip code have an average life expectancy of 11 years less than those in South Tulsa, according to a 2015 city report.
Hall-Harper has made North Tulsa’s lack of fresh food a priority. She was elected in 2016 in District 1 — where she grew up and lives with her police officer husband and teenage daughter.
Hall-Harper said she’s not against the dollar store altogether. But their unstoppable rise, she said, keeps grocers from opening. Supermarkets in the area have consistently failed, and there are few smaller bodegas or markets.
Tulsa’s nine council districts average six dollar stores apiece. But in District 1, where there are nine, residents are at a double disadvantage. “Other communities have access to quality grocery stores,” Hall-Harper said. “Mine is the only one that does not.”
Hall-Harper said the disparity is also racial. According to a citywide 2018 Gallup poll, nearly three times the percentage of black residents — 46 percent — say they have trouble finding stores that sell fresh food, compared with whites and Hispanics.
In 2017, Hall-Harper advocated for a six-month moratorium on new dollar stores in parts of District 1, which the council approved. In April, she led the call to restrict the stores, which also passed. Any new store within certain areas of District 1 can’t be within a mile of an existing one.
But even among those who see a need for more fresh food, not everyone agrees that targeting dollar stores is the right tactic.
Jack Henderson, who represented District 1 on the council before Hall-Harper, said dollar stores are crucial. The last Dollar General to open is across the street from a senior citizens home. That store, Henderson said, is a lifeline to residents. The restrictions mean that other businesses “would think, ‘hey, if they don’t want them, they probably don’t want us either,” he said.
Grocery chains do a lot of market research before opening up a new location, to ensure to shareholders they will turn a profit and not close due to theft and shrinkage. Dollar General fills a much needed market void, that somehow this elected black official in Tusla – the same city where the vaunted Black Wall Street once purportedly flourished but mysteriously has yet to take flight again in nearly a century – deems a threat to a grocery chain opening up in the area.
News flash Mrs. Hall-Haper: grocery chains have done risk assessments, analyzed your community for potential expansion and performed in-depth evaluations for opening up a new location.
They’ve all passed.
But for Dollar General to dare fill a much needed market void in heavily black areas – including the former Black Wall Street – is tantamount to a modern-day lynching…
Noticing America’s demographic trends and the waning of white America, it should be obvious to any sound investor an investment in Dollar General’s stock would be a wise long-term move.