Feb 8, 2024 - News

Chicago to vote soon on dollar store crackdown

Two yellow grocery cards are out of focus in the foreground of a photo of a Dollar General in focus in the background.

A Dollar General store in Germantown, New York. Photo: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Chicago's City Council is expected to vote next week on a proposal to limit where certain dollar stores can open.

Why it matters: The proposed crackdown on dollar stores comes as many alders decry maintenance and safety issues at the stores, while others say they keep a crucial retail presence in neighborhoods abandoned by larger stores.

Details: The legislation, sponsored by Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), would prohibit dollar stores owned by the same company from opening within one mile of each other in the city.

  • It also contains provisions to make owners of these "small box stores" more responsive to customer complaints and would exempt stores from the restrictions if they dedicate at least 10% of floor space to fresh produce or meat.

Flashback: Last September, Ald. O'Shea sent an email to constituents about his opposition to a proposed fifth dollar store in his ward — which spans Beverly, Mount Greenwood and Morgan Park — noting "filthy conditions" and maintenance issues at existing stores.

  • "I have outlined a wide variety of problems related to dollar stores and their operations and asked our attorneys to explore possible solutions," he told Block Club.
  • That solution came in the proposed ordinance that made it out of committee last month.

What they're saying: "Dollar Tree is a bad operator that has been squeezing profits out of our community for years with little regard to the problems they create," O'Shea said at the time, per BlockClub.

Zoom out: Last fall, comedian John Oliver presented a critique of the stores, and the consolidation of ownership dominated by Dollar Tree and Dollar General, on his show "Last Week Tonight," citing complaints of short staffing and uncleanliness, among other issues.

The other side: "Dollar Tree and Family Dollar invest in neighborhoods where other big box retailers are leaving, with locations in 46 wards," a Dollar Tree spokesperson tells Axios, adding that the company has invested "significant dollars" in upgrades, repairs and extra staff to address alders' concerns.

  • The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also oppose the legislation.

Meanwhile, some South Side shoppers recently told WBEZ that they appreciate dollar stores' affordability and willingness to open in their neighborhoods.

  • Restricting them "without a backup plan and putting nothing [in its place] … is gonna make it worse," Bronzeville shopper Tyara Ward told the station.
  • UIC urban planning professor Joshua Drucker acknowledged that dollar stores might not guarantee long-term economic growth, but he told WBEZ they're "one of the few places that come on their own accord to some of these areas, and so they can alleviate shopping deserts."

What we're watching: O'Shea tells Axios that he's fielded proposals from the chambers to modify the ordinance's restrictions from one mile to 1,000 feet and to let alders authorize new locations in their wards, but he called the suggestions "non-starters."

  • Some further modifications may still be possible before the expected Feb. 16 vote.

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