Recently, Fort Worth passed a new ordinance to regulate where new small box retailers, primarily “dollar stores,” can open in the city.
This regulation requires that the stores be at least two miles from an existing “dollar store” and must offer fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products in at least 10 percent floor area of the store.
Mesquite, a suburb east of Dallas, also passed a similar regulation of these stores in 2018. Tulsa, Oklahoma and Birmingham, Alabama have also passed similar ordinances.
A report issued in 2018 by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance encourages cities to consider passing these regulations. It claims that “dollar stores” are crowding out full-service grocery stores and have “exacerbated the problem of food deserts and further eroded the economic prospects of vulnerable communities.”
The USDA defines food deserts as meeting two criteria: low-income areas with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent and low-access of the area’s population, living more than a mile from a large grocery store or supermarket. The USDA food desert definition did not mention access to grocery delivery services which have grown in recent years.
Fort Worth Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray applauded the new city ordinance.
“We know there are at least 100 of these type of stores beginning at I-35 east over to the Arlington city limit. With their being located on almost every corner, along with payday lenders, it makes them appear to be predators in our community.”
Councilwoman Gyna Bivens also applauded the ordinance because she believes it will help make healthier communities.
But Councilman Brian Byrd, the only council member to vote against the ordinance, asked whether it may raise legal concerns.
“It seems we are getting awfully granular on telling people what they can and can not do with their private property,” he said during the city council’s work session.
The growing Houston suburb, Manvel, has talked about the issue and will likely discuss it in more detail at the city’s February goal-setting workshop. But Manvel Councilman Dan Davis is skeptical.
“I don’t think local governments should be social engineers,” Davis said. “We should encourage free markets and competition and not discriminate against certain businesses for the benefit of others.”
Dollar General, one of the largest small-box retailers, released a statement in 2019 expressing its disappointment with the recent regulations and pointing to the services it provides.
“From rural areas to metropolitan centers and all communities in between, Dollar General proudly helps a broad range of customers save time and money on items they use and replenish most often.”
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.