Effort to Crack Down on New Dollar Stores in Chicago Advances

Update (Jan. 24, 2024): Wednesday’s scheduled vote was delayed one week, until Jan. 31. Lenny Asaro, who serves as legal counsel for Family Dollar and Dollar Tree, joined “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” on Wednesday evening to discuss the measure. (Produced by Emily Soto)

A measure designed to crack down on dollar stores across Chicago won the endorsement of a key city panel Monday as members agreed the increasing number of stores have created a nuisance in many West and South Side neighborhoods.

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The full Chicago City Council is set to vote Wednesday on the proposal crafted by Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th Ward), who has been fighting the proliferation of so-called “small-box stores,” most owned by Dollar Tree, Inc., under the Dollar Tree and Family Dollar brands, since 2015. There are approximately 150 dollar stores in Chicago, officials said.

Alds. David Moore (17th Ward), Felix Cardona (31st Ward) and Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) voted against the measure.

At one point, 47 alderpeople signed on as a co-sponsor of the measure, introduced back in October. But several of those City Council members said they would vote against it — and O’Shea blamed an intense lobbying effort by Dollar Tree for swaying his colleagues.

O’Shea accused Dollar Tree of targeting White and Latino alderpeople, while ignoring alderpeople who represent wards where a majority of the residents are Black. Several alderpeople said the stores in Black communities were in much worse condition than in communities where most of the residents are Latino or White.

However, others said the measure was too punitive — and that just the threat of the law had made the firm more responsive to alderpeople who have concerns about cleanliness.

“This seems like an overreach,” said Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward), who is not a member of the committee.

A lawyer representing Family Dollar urged the City Council’s License and Consumer Protection Committee to reject the restrictions on where the dollar stores can operate, saying that issue should be decided by the City Council’s Zoning Committee.

Since September, O’Shea has been working to stop a fifth dollar store from opening in his ward, which includes Beverly, Mt. Greenwood and Morgan Park. O’Shea told ward residents that he was tired of seeing trash overflowing around the Dollar Tree store at 10601 S. Pulaski Road in Mount Greenwood and would do everything possible to prevent another dollar store from opening on the Southwest Side.

Dollar Tree has “no interest in being a good neighbor,” O’Shea said.

The new rules are necessary because of the “proliferation of small-box retailers and the numerous negative effect on the economic resiliency of the city’s neighborhoods and residents, and on the public safety and welfare,” according to the measure.

Dollar stores have popped up across the city, offering household and dry goods as well as processed and canned foods. Most are located on the city’s South and West sides, home to a majority of Black and Latino residents, where full-service grocery stores are few and far between.

The proliferation of dollar stores on Chicago’s South and West sides “contributes to the food desert” that marks those areas, O’Shea said. That has made it nearly impossible for many poor Chicagoans to find affordable fruits and vegetables, since the dollar stores push out other grocers and retailers by offering other goods at deep discounts, he said.

In many neighborhoods, dollar stores have opened while so-called “big-box stores,” like Target and Wal-Mart, have closed in recent years.

The new regulations would ban new dollar stores — defined as stores offering an assortment of goods, most advertised at less than $5 — from opening within one mile of another dollar store owned by the same company, according to the proposed regulations.

In addition, the new rules would require any new store to pay $500 to get a special business license, double the cost of a regular business license, and carry an insurance policy of at least $1 million. 

City officials would also have more authority over how the new stores operate, to ensure they don’t become magnets for trash and criminal activity, according to the proposed regulations.

The regulations also give city officials more authority to shut down stores that violate city rules. Any store found to have caused a nuisance, as defined by the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, twice in 12 months, can have its license revoked, according to the proposed regulations.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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