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Toledo’s still-vacant, former industrial, east-side Marina District for more than a decade has been envisioned as eventually becoming some kind of swanky area with posh stores, fancy restaurants, and upscale apartments.
So when a “dollar store” proposed opening along Front Street — technically inside the Marina District zone — it raised concerns.
“What a waste of million-dollar property,” said Councilman Mike Craig, whose district includes all of East Toledo. “I think there are better uses for that property.”
That 9,100-square-foot planned store is on hold because of environmental concerns on the property, which once was home to an automobile repair shop, said Toledo Plan Commissioner Tom Lemon. Still, he said, it is not a dead deal.
The proliferation of discount stores outside of poor neighborhoods — and into suburbs and rural areas — is not a new trend, but city officials have noticed in recent months that more stores such as Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree are opening in Toledo.
The discount stores also are locating in places some residents wouldn’t expect.
City officials are torn between applauding new business and lamenting that type of business.
Churchill’s Super Market, which drew shoppers from Ottawa Hills, Old Orchard, and the rest of West Toledo to its location at Central Avenue and Cheltenham Road for 65 years, closed in 2012 because of a tax problem. The store sat empty until recently, when a Family Dollar opened a store at the location.
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“I miss Churchill’s,” said Julia Bey before heading into the Family Dollar last week.
“I liked their meat selection and the staff. This is not that,” Ms. Bey said.
Worse for some is the impression it gives for the adjacent neighborhoods — that a higher-end, independent grocery can’t be maintained, but a chain discount store can now take its place.
Kathy Stillman, who was walking her dog along Central in front of the new store, said dollar stores, or businesses such as check-cashing depots, bring with them a stigma that neighborhoods have declined.
“This is not the charming little store where you could go and see your neighbor and talk about the marinated chicken breast or homemade stuff,” Ms. Stillman said. “Now it’s the spot you can get cheap stuff mostly from China.”
Dollar General Corp. has 14 stores in Toledo’s city limits. Within the last year, the company opened three locations at 3136 Lagrange St., 3372 Monroe St., and 828 Phillips Ave., said spokesman Crystal Ghassemi. Within the last five years, two other stores opened — one on Secor Road and another on Bancroft Street.
“We look for places where we can offer customers an easy and convenient shopping choice,” Ms. Ghassemi said. “We also take demographic trends, competitive factors, and traffic patterns into consideration. We know convenience is a major factor in our customers’ shopping decisions as we generally serve customers within a three to five-mile radius, or 10-minute drive.”
Stores that are commonly referred to as “dollar stores” actually fall into two categories.
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Dollar Tree Inc. operates a “single price-point” store, in which everything in the shop costs $1. Family Dollar and Dollar General sell a variety of merchandise, including food and drink, personal-hygiene products, office supplies, clothing, toys, and more.
Much of their merchandise costs more than a dollar, but their business model is based on attracting shoppers who are looking for good values.
Maryann Bartel, manager of Dollar Tree at Monroe and Sylvania, said the branch opened in November in a former CVS Pharmacy.
“I have been with the company 16 years, and we are a true dollar store with everything just $1,” Ms. Bartel said. “People haven’t realized we are here yet.”
Family Dollar has 19 stores in Toledo. The manager of the new Family Dollar on Central Avenue in West Toledo declined to be interviewed and instead directed questions to the company’s corporate relations department, which did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
City officials said taxpayers have limited funds to help businesses with loans or grants, and retail operations are not a top priority.
“You are seeing more and more of those pop up,” said Matt Sapara, the top economic and business development official for the city.
“The challenge that I have is that there is a lot of opportunity to work with these companies and create these jobs, but then these might not be as attractive shopping locations,” Mr. Sapara said. “A few of these have approached me about subsidizing their operations, one potentially on the east side, and that is obviously not something the city can do.”
Mr. Sapara said the dollar stores are often clustered with other types of business that frequently market themselves to lower-income people.
“When you see that type of business model, not too far later you see the check-cashing place, you see the used car lot, and it is a trend throughout the country right now,” Mr. Sapara said. “I don’t go too far as saying they are predatory; they are market-driven and take advantage of opportunities.”
A newly constructed Dollar Tree store is expected to open June 1 in the strip mall at Collingwood and Dorr, adjacent to a Family Dollar.
A cash-advance location, a Rent-A-Center, and a liquor store are in the same development.
Tyler Barnes, manager of the Rainbow women’s clothing store in the strip mall, said she is pleased the store is opening.
“It's good because it will bring more foot traffic,” Ms. Barnes said.
A new Dollar General recently opened on Monroe Street at Auburn Avenue, an intersection that was once considered one of the most dangerous in the city.
Mayor D. Michael Collins said that the intersection is now flooded with alcohol sales.
“All those dollar stores pop up because they get liquor licenses,” the mayor said. “At Auburn and Monroe, you have the gas station, the Dollar General, and the carryout. Three out of four corners have alcohol distribution.”
Mayor Collins is conflicted on the proliferation of discount stores.
“In one sense, it is economic development, but is it generating jobs where income can be achieved that would provide the ability for landownership?” Mr. Collins said. “However, they do provide a good employment base for people in need of jobs.”
Councilman Tom Waniewski, whose district includes the West Toledo location for the two new discount stores, said his Old Orchard constituents had reservations about the new Family Dollar.
“I had a lot of push back when Churchill’s left and people said they heard it was going to be a Family Dollar or dollar store and they said ‘please say it’s not so,’ ” Mr. Waniewski said.
“We can’t have Whole Foods on every corner, we can’t have Fresh Market on every corner. To me businesses grow where demand is planted,” Mr. Waniewski said.