Last year, nearly half of new stores that opened in the U.S. were chain dollar stores, a degree of momentum with no parallel in the history of the retail industry.5 At the start of 2022, Dollar General and Dollar Tree, which owns Family Dollar, together operated more than 34,000 stores in the U.S., more than McDonalds, Starbucks, Target, and Walmart combined.6 In cities, it is common to find dollar stores clustered by the dozen within certain neighborhoods. The two corporations operate more than 100 outlets in metro Atlanta, for example, primarily in the city’s Black neighborhoods on its south and west sides.7 Dollar stores have likewise overrun much of rural America. In some small towns, they seem to be the only retail left.
Both corporations intend to get much bigger. Over the last four years, Dollar General has added about 3,500 locations— opening more than 100 new stores across New York, nearly 200 in Ohio, and 300 in Texas — bringing its roster to more than 18,000 stores and cementing its status as the largest retailer in the U.S. by number of locations.8 This year, Dollar General and Dollar Tree together are on track to open 1,700 new stores.9 And both report that they have identified many more locations; in the coming years, they plan to grow their combined empires to more than 51,000 outlets.10
One might assume that the dollar chains are simply filling a need, providing basic retail options in cash-strapped communities. But the evidence shows something else. These stores aren’t merely a byproduct of economic distress; they are a cause of it. As this report shows, in small towns and urban neighborhoods alike, dollar stores drive grocery stores and other retailers out of business, leave more people without access to fresh food, extract wealth from local economies, sow crime and violence, and further erode the prospects of the communities they target.