Detroit council member calls for moratorium on new dollar stores

Detroit City Council Member Angela Whitfield-Calloway is calling for an ordinance to prevent new dollar stores from opening in the city which already has more than 80. 

Whitfield-Calloway authored a memo asking the council’s legal staff to draft an ordinance to establish a moratorium on new dollar stores to give city lawmakers time to work toward a comprehensive ordinance regulating dollar stores in Detroit. 

“The need for such regulation arises from the unchecked proliferation of dollar stores in Detroit,

which, in my opinion, has had detrimental effects on our community,” Whitfield-Calloway wrote in the memo, noting one effect is the displacement of small, independent retailers and resulting limited choice for consumers. 

“Dollar stores often prioritize offering processed and low-nutrition items, which can

contribute to food deserts and worsen health disparities in underserved neighborhoods,” Whitfield-Calloway wrote. “This can have long-term negative public health effects that ultimately weaken the well-being of Detroiters.” 

The council member’s action comes after a BridgeDetroit analysis on the proliferation of dollar stores in Detroit and the connection nationally of dollar stores with declines in food access. Detroit, a city with a 65 percent food insecurity rate, has more dollar stores than grocery stores. Meanwhile, two of the biggest chains, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, have racked up more than 2,400 blight tickets since 2020. The city reached a settlement with Dollar Tree, which owns Family Dollar, last week for $150,000, one-fifth of its unpaid fines. 

Whitfield-Calloway’s memorandum was referred Tuesday to the council’s Public Health and Safety committee. 

Nationally, at least 54 cities have restrictions on new dollar stores. 

Nash Cannou, owner of Value Dollar and the adjacent Forest Liquor on Trumbull, said he isn’t open to stocking more fresh produce at the moment because he doesn’t have the coolers or equipment to keep it fresh. 

“Nobody has ever requested it,” added Cannou, who has owned the dollar store for 22 years. “Normally people that go shopping for produce don’t go to dollar stores.”

Forest Liquor has two baskets of apples, oranges, and bananas on the front counter, but there is no produce at Value Dollar. 

Forest Liquor on Trumbull has two baskets of fresh fruit on the front counter. (BridgeDetroit Photo by Jena Brooker)

Fort Worth, Texas, has an ordinance that prevents new dollar stores from locating within two miles of an existing discount store. It also requires new dollar stores to use at least 15 percent of the floor area for fresh produce, meat, and dairy products.  

Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens said she supported the ordinance in her city because she kept hearing from constituents about challenges with accessing fresh fruits and vegetables. The ordinance was created in 2019.

“Leading up to that was a lot of citizen input, expressing frustration with having to travel beyond their neighborhoods to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. Since passing the ordinance, Bivens said she hasn’t received any complaints. 

Detroit has passed several moratoriums on businesses in recent history. In 2018, a six-month moratorium was put on new medical mairjuana shops and, in 2019, a ban on recreational marijuana businesses. Also in 2019, citing blight and the proliferation of auto businesses, the council approved a moratorium on new auto businesses, which has been extended several times since. 

For more than a decade Alex B. Hill, project director of the Food Map Initiative, has tracked the increase in the number of dollar stores and decrease of grocery stores in Detroit. 

Hill said an ordinance restricting dollar stores should be just one part of a broader initiative to increase food access in Detroit, including more support for independent grocers to open in the city and healthy food incentives for businesses. 

“We need a healthy food retail strategy,” he said, “I think this can be part of that.”

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