Thursday, January 13, 2022

Rural America keeps gaining dollar stores, though some residents oppose them

Anderson's County Store in downtown Pittsgrove, N.J. (Philadelphia Inquirer photo by Alejandro Alvarez)

Dollar General Corp. is a rural juggernaut, with more than 18,000 stores in the United States. But some rural residents don't want its stores. Local organizers in Pittsgrove Township, N.J., have been fighting to keep a Dollar General from opening in the community of just under 9,000, Jason Nark reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The town's organizing board recently gave Dollar General preliminary approval to open, but some residents say the store would be an eyesore. Nick Mesiano, a 27-year-old web developer, has spearheaded efforts to keep Pittsgrove retain its character. Last year he launched a website, Save Pittsgrove, that organized locals to successfully fight off a proposed industrial trash facility. He later used the site to rally opposition to Dollar General, but since the store's construction seems inevitable at this point, he's trying to at least make sure it fits in with the township's historic buildings.

Pittsgrove Township in Salem County
(Wikipedia map)

A Dollar General spokesperson said the stores fill a retail void in rural America, but there are two other Dollar General locations within five miles of the proposed store. It's also half a mile from Anderson's County Store, "a quintessential general store that dates back to the 1700s. The store features plank floors worn smooth over the centuries, hot coffee, and a deli that makes sandwiches, things you wouldn’t find at Dollar General," Nark reports. Dollar stores often hurt locally owned businesses.

Pittsgrover resident Erik Cagle told Nark he thinks Anderson's will thrive even though Dollar General offers cheaper merchandise. "I guess they’ve created a recipe for creating revenue," Cagle said of Dollar General, “but I think they might be underestimating the closeness of the community."

What's happening in Pittsgrove is happening all over rural America, as rural areas increasingly lose grocery stores and gain dollar stores and super centers. Recently published research from the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service also found that "although single-location grocery stores outnumbered chains in 2015, they have been decreasing in share of food retailers," USDA reports.

"Results showed that of the 1,947 nonmetro counties in the contiguous United States, rural nonmetro counties had fewer of all five types of stores than large and small urban nonmetro counties. In 2015, there were 23 counties without food retailers of any type, and all of those were in rural nonmetro counties. Of the 44 counties with no grocery stores, 40 were rural nonmetro and 4 were urban nonmetro. There were 41 nonmetro counties with just one food retailer, and 115 with only one grocery store," according to the report. "Single-location grocery stores, as opposed to chain stores, made up a larger percentage of the grocery stores in rural counties than in nonmetro urban counties. In 2015, single-location grocery stores comprised about 82 percent of all food stores in rural counties, compared with about 70 percent in large urban nonmetro counties and 74 percent in small urban nonmetro counties."

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