DeKalb County extends temporary ban on dollar stores

DeKalb County on Tuesday extended its temporary ban on new dollar stores amid residents’ complaints that they are “dragging down” neighborhoods.

The county commission unanimously passed a 180-day extension to its moratorium on “small box discount stores,” following concerns from officials and residents over what they see as a proliferation of dollar stores.

More than a dozen residents lined up to speak in support of the moratorium during a three-hour zoning meeting Tuesday night, which included 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, but now will remain in place through the end of July.

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.

“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 are negatively and disproportionately affecting black neighborhoods.

“They’re crappy stories and they drag the neighborhood down,” said Juanita McCrary-Holmes, 68, who lives in unincorporated Decatur off Wesley Chapel Road. “We have more than enough. … Our communities deserve better.”

The extended ban also gives 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 by discouraging larger grocery stores from opening nearby.

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

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.

Dollar General said in a statement Wednesday that representatives are “engaged in constructive conversations” with DeKalb commissioners. The company said it has 20 stores in DeKalb, employing about 170 people.

“Dollar General has been proud to serve area residents and help them save more on everyday products,” the statement said. “We look forward to continuing to do so and hope to expand our investment in the county again soon.”

A representative for Dollar Tree and Family Dollar did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

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 topic 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.

Over the last several months, the issue has been met with debate and dialogue online, with some arguing that banning dollar stores is elitist and hurts low-income people. That wasn't the mood at Tuesday night's meeting.

Immanuel Lewis, 31, of Gresham Park, favors regulation of dollar stores, but said more should be done to incentivize large, traditional grocery stores to open in underserved parts of DeKalb.

“A ban of any sort … doesn’t bring fresh food into the community,” Lewis said. “People want fresh food, not more packaged food.”

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