This will be my first attempt at commentary. I hope folks will bear with me as I express my developing perspective.
First, some observations of interest: a mostly clear night, the waning moon brilliant above (we will not see another full moon until January 1); the third night I’ve heard the honking of Canadian geese above as I gathered eggs in the darkness. Only these beautiful creatures can sound forlorn and yet joyous at the same time.
Now, on to the topic at hand…
A fistful of Dollar Trees
From time to time, I talk about life in rural NC, not being defensive by any measure, but also being honest and forthright.
This is going to be one of those posts.
I was recently struck by an article: “How Dollar General Became Rural America’s Store of Choice (WSJ)” This hit close to home – in a very literal sense. There is a Dollar General on the way to the community college where I work, and right across the street from it, a Family Dollar.
The article notes that Dollar General targets the “lower-end market,” for instance, by marking items in 5-cent increments (easier to add for tight budgets). The household income of targeted shoppers is on the lower end of $40,000¹. The article also notes that the stores sell no fresh meat or produce, and that, by selling snacks and sundries in smaller, more economical packages, they appeal to thrifty shoppers more than Wal-Mart.
Having grown up in a cash-strapped household, I understand the need to pinch pennies. But, there are deeper issues here.
Whenever I pass these sentinels of American thrift, I feel that I’m driving through a food desert².
The smaller package-size is also notable. I have a suspicion, ostensibly confirmed elsewhere, that a cheaper price tag does not make it more economical for the unit price. And it’s hard to comparison shop due to the different sizes when compared to grocery stores.
The proliferation of dollar stores may be a symptom of a larger economic malaise that is besetting rural America. It may also provide rural residents with vital affordable resources that they would otherwise have to drive significant distances to obtain.
My take-away is, as with most aspects of 21st-century living (or is it just being human), one of ambivalence. I feel bad shopping at chains. I feel bad buying imported plastic things. I feel bad not supporting a more local economy. I feel bad spending money period. I also feel fortunate to have access to these products. And to be in a position to purchase them as I need them.
In the end, I know that I can count on Dollar General. However, the supermarkets are preferable because they have celery and whole-milk plain yogurt. The ultimate would be to grow my own celery (I’ve tried) and making my own yogurt (one day?).
What do you think? Do you have a dollar store anecdote to share? Has this path already been trod upon by too many feet? (Any comments, questions, or complaints about my diction and writing style will be warmly received as well)
¹Median household income of our county: $38,000 ($8,000) below state average. Portion of persons living in poverty: 18% (three points above state average).
²According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the definition of a food desert is “both a low-income community with limited food access and a rural area 10 miles from the nearest supermarket;” while the area being described is about 10 miles from a supermarket, most people have gardens.