Which Came First, the DC Food Desert or the Dollar Store?

  • January 22nd 2019

by Nena Perry-Brown

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Nearly a year ago, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development hosted a conversation about how to offer more fresh food options for DC residents living in food deserts. Now, research is emerging linking lack of grocery stores with the presence of dollar stores.

A recent report from the Institute of Local Self-Reliance found that dollar stores have an impact on communities similar to that of the "Walmart Effect", often pressuring other retailers out of the marketplace. Grocery stores are not exempt from this effect, as dollar stores offer some (processed) foods at much lower prices. In one example cited, grocery store sales decreased by 35-40 percent once a dollar store moved in nearby.

Food desert map in DC.

On the other hand, dollar stores also tend to concentrate in neighborhoods that are considered food deserts, typically with predominately Black populations. In this way, dollar stores undermine the profitability of nearby retail outlets, while also taking advantage of the vacuum left by the departure of grocer and retail outlets. 

In light of this, UrbanTurf took a look at where locations of dollar store chains are in DC and its immediate suburbs. As in the ILSR analysis, we only tallied locations of the two major chains (Dollar Tree/Family Dollar and Dollar General) in the map below.

Dollar store map. Click to enlarge. Interactive version here.

Most dollar store locations are either in Northeast or Southeast, and are even more prevalent just across the border in Prince George's County. (There are no major dollar store outlets west of 16th Street NW.)  "Their strategy of saturating these neighborhoods with multiple outlets can make it nearly impossible for new grocers and other businesses to take root and grow," the report states. 

Considering that Ward 8 expects to welcome what will only be its second grocery store this fall, the abundance of dollar stores along the DC-southern PG County border may bear additional study. 

See other articles related to: dollar stores, food deserts, food deserts dc, grocery stores

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/which-came-first-the-food-desert-or-the-dollar-store/14908.

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