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Discount chains are thriving, but what do they do to poor communities? (newyorker.com)
90 points by haltingproblem 2 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments





If you read the opening section of the article, the writer clearly exposits that more traditional retail stores closed down as the cities were subject to deindustrialization and suburban flight. The dollar stores are what's left. And there we have our answer: what discount chains do to poor communities is act as the only provider of goods.

But the headline and the general tone of the article is desperately trying to make it seem as if the dollar store is somehow the cause of urban decay (especially the middle section of the article, which tries really hard to blame the dollar store for the fact that it gets robbed). One of the clearer examples of the headline and tone trying to sell the writer's preferred narrative even when the actual facts presented undermine that narrative.


I started reading the article with the same viewpoint you have, but I found the arguments reasonably persuasive. Dollar General and similar are willing to sell goods (apparently profitably) to communities that would otherwise have access to little to nothing locally. This is good. At the same time, they are unwilling or unable to create an environment that is safe for the folks in the communities working or shopping there.

The key question left unaddressed in the rather long article is whether it's economically infeasible to make the stores safe, or whether it's callousness and profit optimization on the parts of the companies. "Shrink" is of course accounted for in the economics, but not worker and customer safety, which is externalized as violence and loss in the communities.


> At the same time, they are unwilling or unable to create an environment that is safe for the folks in the communities working or shopping there.

Making the dollar store a "safe space" for customers would mean having lots of armed guards around and bulletproof glass everywhere. Also every item behind the counter, like in a general store of old. You just know that the New Yorker would find ways to complain about that, too.


But that can't be an acceptable solution, can it?

If you have to hire armed security to keep your place of business and your customers safe, you're doing business in a dysfunctional country. You might as well not pay taxes then.


I'm not clear on why any responsibility falls on dollar store here either way. Dollar store didn't place unsafe individuals in the community and dollar store didn't have a say in structuring the police force. Is the idea that if you're going to do business in a crap neighborhood then you become responsible for fixing it?

> The key question left unaddressed in the rather long article is whether it's economically infeasible to make the stores safe, or whether it's callousness and profit optimization on the parts of the companies.

Anyway, if they did more they would be criticized for treating all their customers as criminals and creating a self-perpetuating threatening environment or whatever.


What a load of rubbish. Most medium and large retail stores have a security guard at the door, and nobody is claiming they are treating all customers as criminals. Everyone understands they are there to stop the few malicious people from stealing or causing trouble.

"Is receipt checking a practice that violates civil rights while treating customers as criminals until proven otherwise, or are retailers simply trying to cut shrink and avoid passing on the related costs to the same people who are loudly complaining?"

https://securitytoday.com/blogs/reaction/2011/03/the-right-a...


> Most medium and large retail stores have a security guard at the door

Not anywhere I've ever shopped.

The closest I've ever seen is the Walmart greeters, on the rare occasions when I can't avoid going to Walmart.

But then, I live in a rural area, and almost exclusively shop in suburban and small-city stores (the largest city I regularly shop in is Syracuse, NY).


I have noticed loss prevention being fairly pervasive, but I have rarely noticed actual security guards. The difference being loss prevention is there to stop shoplifting, and are generally instructed to never use any physical force. They'll take a description and let the shoplifter get away if the situation becomes violent.

I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen someone who looks like they were placed to discourage armed robberies. Although I have frequented a few grocery stores that had police hanging out.


> Most medium and large retail stores have a security guard at the door

I have only ever seen this at Best Buy. Perhaps it varies from on area to another, though.


> At the same time, they are unwilling or unable to create an environment that is safe for the folks in the communities working or shopping there.

One thing I'm curious about is the liability for having armed security guards. I'm operating under the assumption that unarmed security guards are unlikely to have a real impact on the armed robbery rate, so I'm assuming that armed guards are what we're discussing here.

Quick Googling says Dollar General generates $2.3 billion in profit per year, across "over 16000 stores" from their site. So the average yearly profit per store is roughly $143k (which is surprisingly low to me). A security guard per store is going to eat a lot of that, but it's probably feasible to do. I think the bigger question is whether Dollar General could potentially bear any liability in the event one of their security guards shot someone, and I would be stunned if they didn't bear any liability. Even the legal costs associated with winning a wrongful death suit could eat an entire year's profits.

I strongly suspect that is the reason why they fire any employee who is carrying a handgun. As an agent of Dollar General, Dollar General probably assumes some liability for shootings that happen while on the job.

I also suspect the violent crime is part of the reason other groceries moved away. Being undercut certainly doesn't help, but other groceries were faced with the same economic decision regarding customer safety, as well as damage to their brand from being associated with violent crime.

One solution would be to place police officers at or very near these stores. I lived in a college neighborhood at one point, and there was a convenience store that was well known for being robbed almost weekly. The police set up a substation there, and it basically vanished. On the other hand, that was one store, not an entire chain, and it was the campuses PD that set it up. And campus PD had precious little else to do at night other than rounding up underage drinkers.


It's also unclear whether the police substation discouraged the crimes or pushed them down the street.

> At the same time, they are unwilling or unable to create an environment that is safe for the folks in the communities working or shopping there.

Have you seen some of the very glassed-in sorts of "safe" stores that exist in high crime areas? Tons of bulletproof glass, nothing directly accessible without asking the cashier. It doesn't scale to any kind of a store where sales are made by people walking around and seeing items and being inspired to buy them. It only works for gas stations and restaurants, for the most part, and even then it's a hassle for the staff.

> whether it's economically infeasible to make the stores safe

Never mind economics, it might just be logistically impossible unless you invest heavily in security personnel, who really won't do very much in the event of any kind of more serious criminal action.

Food deserts, etc. form in high crime areas because the crime drives them away. The current anti-police attitude is going to make this worse in the short term; I would like to hear what people are actually suggesting as an alternative to enable these stores to stay without continually suffering so much shrink as to make it hard to make payroll.

> "Shrink" is of course accounted for in the economics, but not worker and customer safety, which is externalized as violence and loss in the communities.

What does that last bit actually mean? How do stolen items "externalize as violence"? It sounds like GPT-3 regurgitated a sociology textbook.


>I would like to hear what people are actually suggesting as an alternative to enable these stores to stay without continually suffering so much shrink as to make it hard to make payroll.

Start by getting everyone into stable housing that they won't be thrown out of at gunpoint for suffering economic hardship, addiction, or mental illness of any variety. Get the same people enough food to feed everyone in their household no questions asked. Build up transportation so people don't need to walk three miles, take four buses, two trains, and a subway over three hours to get to their four hour long minimum wage shift. Provide all necessary health and dental for all citizens at $0 cost at the order of a doctor by nationalizing the healthcare industry as is and excising the profit motives.

Pursue white collar criminals with funding and ferocity equal to the damages.

Create new laws that treat financial criminals the same way the justice system has treated black people: Mandatory minimums, ankle monitors for years, random probation officer visits at 3am, and urinalysis, barred from all positions of authority, security clearance, and working with the vulnerable, and importantly, three strike laws leading to life without parole in supermax.

I'm not talking about the guy committing mail fraud with stolen $100 checks. But rather the people stealing millions and billions. They don't deserve to live outside a prison. These criminals create vicious cycles in the communities the victimize which compound the damages, stunting growth, and ruining countless lives.

Retask the bulk of the atf and dea with being the ops arm of the irs financial crimes unit.

By focusing the small details like victimized staff at dollar stores we're ignoring the bigger picture and doing a disservice to the people trapped in these situation through little or no fault of their own.


I think you misread my last sentence. Stolen goods are internalized costs since they register directly as a write down of value. An employee getting murdered in the store does not seem to be appropriately internalized as a cost though, since they aren’t appropriately funding store safety and security. Instead, the communities are bearing those costs by losing their people and living among higher violence. There is an assumption baked into this (noted in the article) that robbery isn’t fungible. Instead, the suggestion is that stores heavy in cash and low in security foster robbery, which sounds logical to me.

The article touched on the discrepancy between internalized and externalized costs: The stores invested in securing their buildings’ air conditioners, but not in security systems that would improve the physical safety of their customers or employees.

Externalities are costs of doing business that you the business don't directly pay. Their point seems pretty straight forward to me. What part of it is confusing?

Could you maybe just restate it? How are stolen items costs that businesses "don't directly pay"?

OP said:

> "Shrink" is of course accounted for in the economics, but not worker and customer safety, which is externalized as violence and loss in the communities.

So they're saying that the business does pay the cost of stolen items ("shrink") but not the cost of the violence, which is borne by its victims.


The stolen items are costs. The violence to staff and customers are externalities.

Retail has terrible margins. It's financials are public, see the single digit margins:

https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/DG/dollar-general/...

It obviously is economically infeasible to make the stores safe. Any store in the neighborhoods where the dollar stores are would find it economically infeasible.


Still way better margins than a grocery store (1-3% IIRC). Do you have any idea how turnover might compare?

Isn't it the police's responsibility to prevent violent crime? Perhaps they just need more policing. How does a shop prevent a person from shooting somebody else in its carpark? Even then, won't they just shoot each other in the street outside the carpark instead? Without the shop, won't they shoot each other at home? It's hard to see that it's causing crime rather than just being the place where inevitable crime happens more often.

| Isn't it the police's responsibility to prevent violent crime?

There have been several Supreme Court cases that have answered that question with a hard “No”


> There have been several Supreme Court cases that have answered that question with a hard “No”

No, they cannot be sued for failing to prevent crime. You are not guaranteed a crime free life by the presence of or even reports to the police force.


While it may not be job of the police, it is definitely in the mandate of the local government. How they achieve it is their own problem. You are owed security in the streets not by the PD, but by the mayor.

Through what means?

Community outreach, mental health care and drug rehabilitation programs have all been proven effective at reducing violent crime.

However, education is even more effective on a per-dollar and quality of life basis.

Ohio used to have one of the best public school systems in the region.

Now, there’s a saying in Ohio: “We cut our schools so much, our neighbors are making fun of us, and out neighbors include Kentucky and West Virginia!”

The saying popped up when both those states started beating Ohio on standardized tests, if I remember right. It was partly because those states improved their schools, but largely because Ohio slashed funding.


> prevent violent crime?

well, i don't think that's ever the mandate of the police - they are there to punish after the fact, not prevent before the event.


This is an overly simplistic view. If law enforcement isn't a deterrent, even in principle, why do it?

The fact that the view leads you to ask “why do it?” does not mean that it is an overly simplistic view.

This is like saying the health authorities have no interest in what you eat, they just treat you after you show up with a heart attack.

What a nonsensical belief.

A belief upheld by the supreme court:

Warren v. District of Columbia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_v._District_of_Columbia

Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_of_Castle_Rock_v._Gonzale...


Nope. Just that police are not liable for failing to prevent crime.

If you are not liable for failing to do some thing then by definition you are not responsible for doing that thing.

No. I cannot be reasonably sued for blowing up my company's software systems for a failure on my part as an employee. It doesn't mean I am not responsible for keeping them up and running.

You can fire me. You cannot successfully sue me for the costs of my failure.


The fact that a police department technically has the option to fire a police officer for not acting to prevent crime (but the public has no recourse if the department does not do this) is hardly what I would consider to be genuine responsibility on the part of police to prevent crime.

How are those different in practice?

(Genuine question, no snark intended)


If I blow up a production system through an error, my employer can fire me. They generally cannot sue me for the costs of their losses.

There can still be consequences, just not compensation for losses.


You realize that the court case in question was about the police refusing to deal with a crime in progress, correct? If the police cannot be held accountable for their job, then what exactly is their role?

They can be held accountable through the democratic process and fired. They cannot be sued.

Exactly what democratic process are you talking about? We don't elect our cops, they're usually part of a strong union that prevents them from being fired and as you mentioned they cannot be sued.

So...how exactly do you expect them to be held accountable? These court cases were examples of the 'democratic process' and the court ruled that the cops have no duty to help you.


> Isn't it the police's responsibility to prevent violent crime?

It seems that Walmart is of the opinion that all crime, no matter how lowly, should be handled by Police[1]

[1] https://projects.tampabay.com/projects/2016/public-safety/wa...


> what discount chains do to poor communities is act as the only provider of goods

competing in an environment dominated by multinational corporations which all utilize complex supply chains (offshore companies / transfer pricing aka tax avoidance) , there is only 1 strategy left for competing. It dates back to 2 brothers[1] from the UK meatpacking industry in 1915. This strategy is: Squeeze both the consumer and the producer and siphon profits from the middle:

From "Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World"[2]

> The Vesteys’ basic formula for gaining market power—squeeze them at the producer end, squeeze them at the consumer end, and push all the profits into the middle—was a philosophy that they also deployed, with astonishing success, in the area of tax. It is a formula that underlies the size and power of multinational corporations today. In those early days the tax haven world was in its infancy, and governments were groping in the dark to understand and to tax emerging multinational corporations. (They still are.) Relatively few tax havens existed then, focusing mostly on the financial affairs of extremely wealthy individuals. Rich Europeans looked primarily to Switzerland, while wealthy Britons tended to use the nearby Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

what is described in this thread is just a symptom of this. What is so damaging is that if you want to compete against multinationals and be more than just a mom-and pop shop it is now the _only_ game in town.

[1] Vestey Group https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vestey_Group

[2] Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treasure_Islands:_Tax_Havens_a...


From personal experience, there are plenty of communities with options that still see dollar stores moving in.

Each one I’ve seen built was an attempt to drastically raise the value of zoned lots before selling it off as part of a package deal.


Yeah, personally it seems dollar stores seem to often appear as "gap fillers" to prevent strip malls from dying like bleaching corral after the anchor store closes. The only other "empty blight stopgap" I have seen are storage places which essentially mean the place gave up on retail traffic anyway.

This is the Walmart problem made worse and I'd recommend you read this article [1]. The problem is multi-faceted: When a discount chain comes in, it often does so at the cost of what remaining local business exists. Because discount chains operate at a much larger scale than local businesses, that means not only can they sell things at far lower rates but they can also do things that would destroy a local business. The example brought up in the article is that having people steal your goods and money is baked into your losses. They can operate with little security or care about the store itself, increasing revenue and further pushing out local businesses.

When cities suffer from industrialization and suburban flight, discount chains swoop in like economic vampires, draining and destroying what's left until there's either nothing left or they're the sole business in town.

This isn't an easy problem to solve because both of the answers to it would require doing something that Americans seem to generally hate. The first would be subsidizing smaller businesses so that they can compete with larger ones or opening local government-owned store [2] but that tends to invoke cries of socialism or complaints about taxes. The second option is to admit that these cities are dying and encourage people to instead move to economic centers, but people are stubborn and there's growing resentment towards larger cities.

So what's left is the problem illustrated in the parent article.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/09/what-happene...

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/11/22/baldwin-flo...


Some US cities have moved to ban dollar stores entirely https://psmag.com/social-justice/to-save-a-neighborhood-ban-...

Certainly the safety and operating conditions for workers in these kinds of stores needs to be enforced, and companies penalized when they violate workplace rules or create an unsafe environment.

But the larger issue is that these kinds of stores are not "doing" something to communities. They are the reflection of (and maybe focal point for) what has already been done -- communities that are hollowed out of industries that used to sustain people who now don't have a lot of opportunities and can only afford such stores, or where it's too unprofitable or dangerous to sustain a traditional full service store.

If you want a real assessment of this country's prosperity (or lack of it for many people) -- or simply what happens when an economy is no longer in baby-boomer growth mode -- look to places like this where people who have been left behind in the "economic boom" have to shop because they have no other choices. Look to where the poor have to work/shop/live for the indicators of lack of leadership at a national/state level who don't understand that a single rising GDP number (for corporations) doesn't mean that all is good.

And by the way, don't blame the companies fully for it either. They just fill in the gaps where our ineffective governments have abdicated their responsibilities / role to take care of citizens. And the problem with companies filling in the gaps is that they have no real moral values or long-term responsibilities -- that's not their nature. They blow with the wind, or when enough public pressure causes them to have to do something -- until the next quarter.

Don't take the easy route and blame Dollar General. We're the dealers, they're just playing the cards.


Are the poor worse off now than they were during "baby-boomer growth mode"? Also, what is "baby-boomer growth mode"?

I think to some extent they are... Dollar stores I see more as a symptom and perpetuation of the problem poor people face today. (Conspicuous consumption.)

When I was growing up, my parents had Air fans that they purchased YEARS before I was born. They're still working. Compare and contrast, I have a fan that only lasted 2 summers before burning out. Or, the knife set my parents got as a wedding gift and still use, compared to the set I got 2 years ago that already have pitting and the like.

Before, poor people had access to good, quality used goods that could last.

Now, they are stuck in the prisoner's dilemma; Either buying a more expensive used thing from goodwill/etc and see how long it lasts, or buying the cheap thing and knowing it's already on borrowed time.


Maybe in an absolute material sense they are not worse off now. But most certainly the opportunity to advance and achieve relative changes in class and wealth are not as positive as they once were in the US.

Baby boomer growth mode was when the needs and growth of post-war America meant that many, many people could have well-paying middle class jobs that were a source of great economic mobility and improvement across the USA. It was also an era with far less income inequality than now. When your grandparents talk about needing to show initiative and go out there and find opportunity, remind them that they grew up in an era where pretty much anyone with a heartbeat could earn enough at a medium skilled job to buy a home by age 40.

Not so much now.


Building a primitive shelter doesn't take a lot of labor, can be done in weeks to months of time. Given that, it's absurd how hard housing is to come by.

>the opportunity to advance and achieve relative changes in class and wealth are not as positive as they once were in the US

When were opportunities for poor black people better and what metric do you use for this comparison?


Tangentially related, but if anyone is interested in some manufacturing background on some products for dollar stores, check out Poorly Made in China. [1] The author goes through the process of an American business owner attempting to manufacture soap in China, for distribution in US general stores.

The owner was trying to stay compliant with all the laws, and trying to fulfill the contract, but faced immense challenges. Ingredient swaps without notice, labeling issues, bottle consistency issues, etc.

It really opened my eyes to the quality side of some commodity-type products. We, as a society, need to become more aware of the supply chain of products we buy. When I mention Amazon comingles inventory, most people are shocked. They think Amazon Prime means Amazon has oversight and a motivation to control the supply chain from the manufacturer to the end user, which is simply not the case.

It's certainly challenging to figure out where stuff comes from, and suppliers are constantly changing, so you'll probably only be able to trace back 1 layer of manufacturing. Doing so helps give confidence in what you're buying.

[1] https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Poorly+Made+in+China%3A+An+Insid...


This article reminds me of the time the city of Philadelphia tried to ban corner stores from installing bulletproof glass to protect themselves in robberies. Or the numerous education reformers trying to ban remedial classes by making all classes nominally "honors".

Bulletproof glass, remedial classes, and dollar stores reflect societal problems, so outside observers, in their great wisdom and compassion, decide they must be the cause of the problems. They campaign to get rid of them, completely oblivious to the fact that this would only hurt the people they supposedly care about, while doing absolutely nothing to address the real problems. Their injunctions are not even self-consistent: the dollar store is bad for not having the resources to prevent theft, while the corner store is bad for trying to.


> Bulletproof glass, remedial classes, and dollar stores reflect societal problems, so outside observers, in their great wisdom and compassion, decide they must be the cause of the problems.

This is related to the phenomenon wherein someone warns about an obvious failure coming up in the future, nobody believes in it, it happens, and all the blame "logically" falls on the person who sounded the warning. Why did they want the failure to occur in the first place?


This article is not talking about the woes of Ma and Pa shops trying to install bullet proof glass. It's talking about exactly the opposite, with mayors of cities like Dayton asking large corporations - Dollar General and Family Dollar - to please go ahead and install bullet proof glass so that less employees and customers die on their premises (i.e. the call for more Security Guards).

The chains’ executives are candid about what is driving their growth: widening income inequality and the decline of many city neighborhoods and entire swaths of the country. Todd Vasos, the C.E.O. of Dollar General, told the Wall Street Journal in 2017, “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer.”

The bottom line is Dollar General knows exactly what communities to target - already ailing ones:

This correlation is not a coincidence, according to a 2018 research brief by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for small businesses. The stores undercut traditional grocery stores by having few employees, often only three per store, and paying them little. “While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress,” the brief reported. “[Sometimes] they’re a cause of it."

But just because you didn't start the fire does not mean you have carte blanche in adding gasoline to the flames.


Because they're one of the few businesses that have figured out how to make it work there. Look, just because penguins thrive in the Antarctic does not mean they are making it difficult for other species to live there. Sometimes an environment is just harsh.

If their method of "making it work there" requires them to actively (if subtly) make conditions worse for the people living there, is it worth it in the long run?

Sounds like there's a revenue opportunity for a competitor with proper security measures to make a move and eat Dollar General's lunch.

Why hasn't anyone stepped up?


>The chains’ executives are candid about what is driving their growth: widening income inequality and the decline of many city neighborhoods and entire swaths of the country. Todd Vasos, the C.E.O. of Dollar General, told the Wall Street Journal in 2017, “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer.”

This is a terrific article, but I hate the framing that the stores are the problem. They are clearly filling a vacuum left by cheap real estate and low wages. There is some evidence that the stores help accelerate the decline - but the exact same business model is present in a Daiso store without it ravaging Japan.

In nice coastal cities, the obvious problem is lack of zoned housing. But it's easy to overlook that for most of America, it's effectively over-zoned. We have huge sprawling cities and towns that have been hollowed out by population flight. In my parent's town, half of the buildings are derelict. Spreading thin what would otherwise be a vibrant business district. The deed holders have long since vanished without paying taxes.


> We have huge sprawling cities and towns that have been hollowed out by population flight. In my parent's town, half of the buildings are derelict. Spreading thin what would otherwise be a vibrant business district.

This is mostly a policy failure due to the failures to create regional government in most metro areas that is updated to match the actual metro area. Instead, we now have individual municipalities and suburbs duking it out for the same pie. Suburb A could afford to keep tax rates low because it had brand new infrastructure that didn't need much maintenance compared to the city, until it also needed to replace its infrastructure at the end of its lifecycle, at which point Suburb B now has the spanking new infrastructure with low maintenance costs and low tax rates, until it doesn't and Suburb C does, rinse and repeat.


I find it interesting to consider the different affordances of society that have lead to dollar stores and convenience stores being a lower-class destination in America, while convenience stores in Japan are frequented by people from all social classes and seem to serve a real niche.

The main difference I can think of is how cars and public transit are viewed and differ. In America, most people, excluding the poor and those in dense cities, have cars. The middle and upper class have ended up in "suburbia" in many parts of the country, where they've sprawled enough that any activity mandates taking the car. Those in this class all have lawns, and thus houses must spread enough that densely packed city blocks are really only for the lower class.

This is in stark contrast to Japan. Trains are taken by people of all economic class, and neighborhoods are generally a little more dense. Cars are not the everyday staple of life.

I think that difference leads to the need for a nearby corner-store that serves the small needs of life. The 6-pack of beer, the toothpaste and other small toiletries, the bread for breakfast.

There's clearly this niche of more frequent smaller "neighborhood" stores in Japan. Why does it end up translating so poorly here, even in larger cities where we have public transit (though significantly worse) and we have relatively high density, relatively walkable, cities?


Long-term resident of Japan here. I agree with what you say about public transportation. I'm always struck, when I return to the Los Angeles area on visits and go around by city bus, how overwhelmingly working class the bus ridership is. In Japan, especially in the urban areas, nearly everyone takes buses and trains.

The Japanese parallel to the dollar stores described in the New Yorker article is not convenience stores, which are as you state, but hundred-yen shops. They tend to be in low-rent locations, they pay low salaries, and the clientele tends toward the working-class side.

But the parallel doesn't go very far beyond that, as the problems of crime, food deserts, neighborhood decay, etc. described in the article are much less serious here (if they exist at all) than in the U.S.


The quality at Daiso and such is lightyears above dollar stores in the US. It’s quite outstanding.

In the US often to make those products cheaper something is reduced, it could be the the size for example. Aluminum foil might be $1 at Dollar General for an 8ft roll and $3 at Target for a 30ft roll, so the Target one is generally cheaper on a per unit basis. The $1 version has the lower nominal price and illusion of being cheaper. These stores then are not as cheap as they may seem.

Brushing broad strokes with a wide brush, I also find the overall attention to detail and pride to be much better in Japan so the stores are cleaner, staff friendlier, etc. While the US counterparts are dirty, unorganized etc. The article makes it sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy. This reminds me of the broken window effect (which intuitively makes sense but may not actually be true).


> The quality at Daiso and such is lightyears above dollar stores in the US. It’s quite outstanding.

I like Daiso quite a bit, even if it's more like a $1.50 store.

I'd definitely trade a local Dollar Tree for a Daiso.

I also hope that 7-11 stores in the US become more like 7-11 stores in Japan.


Sprawl definitely plays a large part in this. In the suburbs, grocery stores are exceptionally common. There are 2 within walking distance of my house. I would pass by several large grocery stores before I hit a convenience store. It's also worth pointing out that the chains in this article aren't merely convenience stores, they're discount stores. They basically sell the cheapest version of everything. Their purpose is less about convenience, and more about competing on price. Convenience stores still thrive in American suburbia, just not in the places you think. Pharmacies typically also serve as a convenience store, selling non-perishable groceries, drinks, snacks, etc, etc. Gas stations typically have a selection of drinks and snacks, and usually very light groceries like salt, bread, and some pre-packaged "just add water" type meals. If you're not deep in a housing development, you're rarely more than a couple of blocks from somewhere you could buy bread and beer.

There is also a negative perception of corner stores that makes them an undesirable part of many people's communities. They're associated with poverty, which creates a reinforcing cycle where wealthier neighborhoods will fight their existence, making them further associated with poverty.


There's a lot of assumptions here. I'm not sure they're true.

(1) Cities are getting richer and richer. More and more rich people are living in the cities, in dense urban environment. This is why America's urban housing stock is so expensive

(2) Most poor people in America have cars.

> Why does it end up translating so poorly here, even in larger cities where we have public transit (though significantly worse) and we have relatively high density, relatively walkable, cities?

In large cities there are convenience stores everywhere?


I grew up in a rural community that was at one time nearly a 30-45 minute drive from any major department store. Dollar General stores have filled in the gap and people in my hometown genuinely enjoy shopping there. It's convenient, it's close, it's got all the basics, it's cheap. It's easy. It works quite well for these smaller communities that don't justify a Wal-Mart or Target sized department store.

"While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress,” the brief reported. “They’re a cause of it.”"

Then kindly provide some of that "growing evidence", rather than a bunch of anecdotes.


It's hard to find the point of the argument other than "poor people shouldn't be allowed to buy cheap stuff." These shops cause poverty by being cheaper than traditional chain stores and attracting robbers who kill staff?

I think people who have their life in order are often materialistic and value long-lived possessions. They see buying this "cheap Chinese crap destined for the landfill" as a sign of failure at life on the part of the buyers. But it's hard to blame poor people for behaving like poor people so somehow this article blames the shop.


To sum up the article:

1. Discount chains come in, proceed to wipe out all other local stores through economy of scale.

2. Discount chains become the only option for people to buy food or general necessities. Said food is often low quality and unhealthy.

3. Said chains also invest little in security, pay little and return little to the local community.

Isn't it a failure of capitalism when there's only one store providing everything you need and results in a net negative to the community over a long period of time? It creates a defacto local monopoly. And when that discount chain becomes unprofitable or leaves, what do you think will happen?


2. is just people exercising their freedom. Unless you want to disallow poor people access to products that rich people can have, or make them pay more!

3. Technically it may be true but it's obviously not an honest argument because they wouldn't blame the victim for other crimes. If that argument were valid, it'd also be the workers' fault for working in such a dangerous place and allowing crime to be committed (against themselves). Why isn't their criticism should be directed at the staff instead? The staff are just there to make money, same as the business is. Both are attracting crime.


“The likelihood of a crime occurring depends on three elements: a motivated offender, a vulnerable victim, and the absence of a capable guardian,”

Can someone please telegraph this quote to the Defund the Police movement?


This is a bullshit article, not backed by data, but backed by the agenda of the journalist.

When there is no Dollar General, the situation for poor residents is not better. It's worse. The cheap prices seem like they don't mean much to this yuppie moron journalist, but they are critical for families that live paycheck to paycheck.

This idiot thinks urban economics are driven from the retail sector ... he basically thinks the horse nourishes itself from its asshole. In truth, there has to be some economic activity in the city to drive the consumer spending which in turn drives retail. Dollar General and its ilk cannot simply create a healthy city by paying its workers more, even though this dumbshit journalist thinks so. Does that idiot theory even pass the most basic smell test.

I'm so sick of this anti-market rhetoric in America. Every ill in society is in some roundabout way placed at the feet of the market and companies.

If companies are so bad, we'd expect to see great happiness in places that have no corporations. In fact, its the f'in opposite. I actually do work in rural India. When its just "mom and pop" stores in a village the people are pretty much destitute. When corporations are present, incomes go up, goods and services improve ... its just common sense.

This idea that urban retailers somehow create urban decay is like a freshman Marxist take. How does this garbage get printed in newspapers in America?

And BTW, there are many security measures that stores can take to protect their employees and merchandise, but I can guarantee you this idiot journalist won't like them. They aren't pretty. Armed guards in stores and bullet proof glass, and merchandise under lock and key is not what consumers want.


> If companies are so bad, we'd expect to see great happiness in places that have no corporations. In fact, its [the] opposite. I actually do work in rural India. When its just "mom and pop" stores in a village the people are pretty much destitute. When corporations are present, incomes go up, goods and services improve

This is actually a very nice point, thanks for mentioning it!


Off-topic but I went to share the URL to this article in iOS Safari, and was surprised that the URL I shared was on a completely different origin (propublica.org). Now, that link appears to be the same story on ProPublica’s site, but that was pretty jarring; had no idea that browsers respect changing share links to entirely different domains.

Dollar Stores exemplify the extreme mediocrity of retail in America. So many products are more expensive at the grocery stores compared to dollar stores.

I'm upper middle class and I shop at dollar stores because everything from envelopes to pens to bags of chips is cheaper at them.


I am confused... Dollar General and Family Dollar are not really dollar stores. They have "dollar" in their name, but the prices are comparable to other supermarkets. I just looked at their weekly ads and it could have been any other mainstream supermarket with similar pricing. Yet the article only mentions Dollar Tree in tangential context by saying they locate predominantly in suburban areas, which implies lower crime.

While Family Dollar is technically owned by Dollar Tree, it is not integrated and functionally a failed acquisition. Dollar General is not affiliated although Family Dollar attempted to acquire it.

DollarTree, on the other hand, is a true dollar store. I shop there often and it's my preferred choice.

In terms of clientele...

Whole Foods (Amazon)/Sprouts/Nob Hill (Raley's)/Trader Joe's/Harris Teeter/ Boutiques - elite Safeway (Albertsons)/Lucky (Savemart)/Publix/Kroger/Raley's/Walmart - mainstream Dollar General/Family Dollar - confused "dollar" stores that are not dollar stores Food Maxx (Savemart)/Foods Co (Kroger)/Winco/Grocery Outlet - bulk shopping outside Costco DollarTree/99 Cents Only etc. - true dollar stores for shopping while broke or not considering status Convenience stores/Corner stores - terrible places to shop.

Given choice, Dollar Tree always beats Dollar General and corner stores for availability of healthier foods at a lower price except produce.

Fun observation: Kroger's Foods Co San Francisco store is probably the city's largest liquor store. It has armed security guards. All liquor is at front of store.

Source: I maintain POS equipment for all major grocery chains. Dollar Tree is not one of them, I just shop there.


Where are these Trader Joe’s stores? In Washington it seems more affordable than Safeway and its customers not remarkably “elite.”

TJ's packaging tends to be smaller for produce. I wouldn't want to shop there. Price per ounce is significantly higher.

TLDR: Dollar stores are the only targets, they are also deliberately kept soft targets by management, corporate management don't want to pay for security.

The article somehow absolves (as in doesn't mention) local municipal government of having somehow influence over the crime and security of an area. Just having poverty doesn't mean that a neighborhood should be dangerous and crime ridden.


They help them when few others will.

The problem is disparity, a symptom is dollar stores, the cause is greed, classism, and racism. The cure? Democratic socialism and separating money and state.

If dollar stores do anything, they re-inforce the poverty trap they exemplify: Once your community is serviced by dollar stores, it is hard to persuade capital investment for different types of stores, because they want to avoid the association.

Dollar stores don't cause poverty but they make it harder to move on from.

I live in a former working-class low-rent suburb, and the displacement of dollar stores with real stores followed on from gentrification: it did not lead. The dollar stores that persist are in dark corners. (btw I am part of the gentrification problem: re-capitalising the locality is displacing people with less income)

Dollar store poverty trap includes being forced to re-purchase badly made cheap things, and live with hacks and bugs, because you cannot afford the well made rational alternative. The belief that all goods in a type are substitutable is simply wrong. (probably a strawman) -good wine has qualities beyond getting you drunk, cheap wine only meets the latter goal.

SONY is not COBY.


You cannot have freedom of settlement, regulation of construction and poor people not getting the short end of the stick.

Unfortunately the world is trying it's best to fit itself into as few megapolicies as possible. With Bangkok converting Thailand to something resembling a city state. And the insane productivity of cities means that this is potential endgame for all countries.


> You cannot have freedom of settlement, regulation of construction and poor people not getting the short end of the stick.

Sure, but that's just an obvious corollary of the more fundamental observation "you cannot have poor people not getting the short end of the stick". That's what we mean when we call them "poor".




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