The New Yorker July 6 & 13, 2020 pp20-26. AMERICAN CHRONICLES “THE DOLLAR-STORE DEATHS”. “Discount chains are thriving. But what do they do to poor communities?” by ALEC MACGILLIS
An illuminating report mostly details Dollar General stores in an around St. Louis and Dayton. Dollar General (DG) is a public company consisting of small retail stores located in poor urban areas. Their history traces back to 1902 but in recent years they have experienced remarkable growth as economic inequality has increased and other retailers have abandoned impoverished inner-city locations. Originally, the founding family plan was “selling the good stuff to the rich folk” but having arrived late-to-retail “We had to sell the cheap stuff to the poor folks”. With such business strategy keeping costs low is a primary tactic achieved by selling cheap goods, having inexpensive locations, paying for little or no security and keeping wages rock-bottom low ( no more five percent of sales). Besides dry household goods, common healthcare items and automotive selections, “The stores have some nonperishable and frozen foods, too, for people who can’t travel to the few discount grocery stores left in area”.
Chart shows the exceptional increase in market capitalization.
“Since 2017, nearly fifty people have been killed at the two biggest chains”. The violence results from armed robbery, car-jackings, “drug deals gone bad” and altercations inside the more than 23,000 stores. According to Patrick Sharkey, author of Uneasy Peace , “The likelihood of a crime occurring depends on three elements: a motivated offender, a vulnerable victim, and the absence of a capable guardian”. Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, “Making it hard to commit a crime doesn’t just push crime elsewhere [like “Whack-a-Mole”]; it reduces it. Crime is opportunistic. If there’s no opportunity, there’s no crime”. Notably DG services communities that struggle to secure property and ensure public safety but Dollar General could reduce criminal opportunity by consistently maintaining an orderly store giving better line-of-sight for store clerks and law enforcement. They should frequently transfer cash from the register to the safe and in some locations add security guards. Reportedly, if new clerks get safety training, they are told to give up whatever is in the register, add a dye pack to help trace the currency, then call the security firm used by Dollar General. Employees are instructed to not carry or use fire arms even if to defend yourself. Potentially contributing to the crime spree, Dollar General is frequently not a willing or effective partner in helping police investigate and prosecute incidents happening at their locations. This lack of consistent engagement with community policing may come from top executive leadership. In the Q3-2019 disclosures to shareholders, “Dollar General lamented the rise in nationwide hour wages, and said that it was aiming to shift to self-checkout in many stores. The company hopes not to have to increase security at stores, since its ‘financial condition could be affected adversely’ by doing so”.
Municipalities push back against DG but are largely unsuccessful in stopping new applications to sell alcohol and to limit the number of these Dollar General stores in any location. There’s a sense that Dollar General is…”giving nothing back” to the community.