Monday, May 21, 2018
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Dollars and sense

City officials should applaud discount stores that serve a market with their products and services



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Toledo area officials should worry about predatory businesses such as some payday lending stores and check-cashing depots, which tend to locate in low-income neighborhoods with a lack of retail options. Although legal, such places charge exorbitant rates for services that people without cash often need.

Liquor and lottery stores can also pose problems for a community. Living on blocks where it’s easier to buy a fifth of gin than fresh fruit isn’t healthy.

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But questioning the value of a dollar store in the still-vacant east-side Marina District, as some Toledo officials have done, smacks of snobbery and elitism. A dollar store might not have the swank that the City Council and mayor envision for the former industrial site, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

Dollar stores sell cheap products, attracting low, and moderate-income shoppers — or anyone looking for a bargain on plates, balloons, and costumes for a birthday or a Halloween party. They also provide jobs and create retail traffic for other businesses.

In the Marina District, a planned dollar store is on hold because of environmental concerns about its site, once home to an auto repair shop. If Councilman Mike Craig thinks there are better uses for the site, he’s welcome to find them.

Plans for public housing and mass transit often prompt pushback from people who think low-income residents stigmatize a neighborhood or development. Toledo can’t afford such snobbery.

Dollar General Corp. has 14 stores in Toledo, three of which opened in the past year. A company spokesman said the stores generally serve customers within a three to five-mile radius. So dollar store shoppers are already in the neighborhood.

Some residents expressed dismay when a Family Dollar store opened recently at the former Churchill’s supermarket location at Central Avenue and Cheltenham Road. The store closed in 2012 because of tax problems and had sat empty.

Dollar stores are popping up in more places; they are in Perrysburg and Sylvania Township. Poverty, for decades, has spread to suburbs and to formerly upscale neighborhoods.

Nationwide, suburban poverty rates have grown twice as fast as urban poverty rates. Suburbs are now home to more poor residents than central cities, the Brookings Institution reported last year. Between 2000 and 2011, suburban poverty in each of Ohio’s metropolitan areas, except for Youngstown, increased more than 80 percent.

Whether in the Marina District or suburbs, dollar stores serve residents who need and want their products. “These stores are market-driven, and they do an honorable business,” Councilman Sandy Spang told The Blade’s editorial page. “I don’t think it’s a big negative.”

She’s right. Until the market can sustain other businesses, city and suburban officials should applaud the development, jobs, and services that discount stores bring.

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