Meet the newest Dollar General in America! (For at least the next few minutes...) It opened a few hours ago in downtown Clarksdale, in the old Fred's.
If you've traveled cross-country, or just noticed them springing up in your hometown, and wondered "What's the deal??"...Here's an illustrated guide:
DOLLAR GENERALS & SMALL TOWNS
Some locals are stoked it's now downtown. We also miss Fred's. Since Fred's and Kroger left town (if you don't know Clarksdale: we're population ~15k semi-thriving with live music nightly, with so. many. buildings emptied by the same forces that depopulated much of the Delta and American farm-towns everywhere), Walmart is the closest we have to a grocery store. It's a 40min drive (one way) to Batesville or Cleveland for the nearest Real Grocery Store.
Food deserts are real.
They're also now punctuated by those iconic Dollar Generals you'll spot by the side of the road all across America. Drive cross-country, and it feels like they pop up everywhere. Everywhere in the Middle of Nowhere, that is.
Clarksdale is a big city compared to the small towns that surround us! At least we have Walmart. If you're in Tutwiler or Rosedale, it was 40min roundtrip to get milk or school supplies from a store *anywhere* -- until the Dollar General rolled in. (The Oct. 2018 opening in Tutwiler was its 500th in Mississippi.)
I've read the thinkpieces about dollar stores as not a savior, but a contributing factor to food insecurity. Legit studies say they push out locally-owned grocery stores that employ more people at higher wages, and contribute more to the local economy than these nationally-owned corporate chains. When they move in, locally-owned grocery sales drop 30%. But that presumes you have a locally-owned grocery store in the first place. For a long time, our small towns have had nuthin! (On other fronts, the newest articles are indeed thought-provoking -- check out the latest from the New Yorker & Pro Publica: www.propublica.org/article/how-dollar-stores-became-magnets-for-crime-and-killing)
When I first traveled here, locals pointed out Dollar Generals as godsends to rural small towns. If you're a working mom without a car, it ain't easy to "dash out" 40min for last-min homework supplies or tomorrow morning's milk.
They're shaped like an ol' fashioned General Store for a reason. They've got a little of everything, for everyone.
DOLLAR GENERALS EVERYWHERE There's good reason for that Dollar General meme: "DOLLAR GENERAL, WHEN THEY SEE AN OPEN FIELD OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE..." 75% of stores operate in towns of <20,000 people. And the company plans to open 1,000 stores this year.
Unlike most retailers, its business strategy has focused on rural America. In precisely the small towns too small for Walmart. (And where Walmart pushed out the small retailers long ago...) Unlike "big box stores," Dollar General's little boxes can be staffed minimally and built quickly, with LOTS of its little footprints scattered widely.
Srsly: check out its store count. As other retailers across America close, Dollar General keeps growing like crazy:
And check out its stock price -- not coincidentally growing like crazy, too. In a recent call with Wall Street analysts, their CEO said, "We do very good in good times and we do fabulous in bad times" [sic].
Also not a coincidence: Dollar General store growth is focused in food deserts, often in low-income areas where not everyone has a car.
During the pandemic, Dollar General was declared "essential." National grocery sales increased 13% as more people cooked at home. Dollar General's sales increased 28%.
Only some of its stores carry fresh produce or a large inventory of healthy food options.
That may change: As the company increases its distribution hubs and adds coolers to more stores, its ability to provide fresh food to small towns will increase, too. "DG Fresh" is a new program that promises to bring fresh food to more stores.
THE DOLLAR GENERAL HERE So we were stoked to see what the newest Dollar General in America brings for our downtown. Here's a snapshot of food options on its opening day:
Locals are already asking each other what it's like and whether they have food. Uh...yes and no? It's nice and clean and spacious. There's a wall of frozen food, and all the usual staples and junk food. The aisle of "Nutrition" and "SMART CHOICES" has V8 and Capri Sun. There isn't fresh produce.
We read about the DG Fresh program...is this what it looks like? Getting eggs, milk and cheese (and ice cream!) down the street is GREAT, but-- does that mean this is a DG Fresh store, and this is the best we can hope for? Or might DG Fresh come to Clarksdale in the next couple years with, y'know, fresh produce?
It's a General Store. It's hardly the grocery store that used to stand in its place. While that 30% is true in areas where a local grocery store exists, in this case it wasn't the Dollar General that caused Fred's to close. So we ain't mad, but...
Goodbye, old Fred's -- hello, Dollar General.
It's the newest Dollar General in America. It won't be the newest for long. It's general, but... in this food desert, guess we're glad it's here at all??
FRIENDS HERE AND FAR: what are your Dollar General experiences?
(Food desert Post-Script and shout-out to our local farmers: On the day DG opened, Lyon also hosted its weekly farmers market. Clarksdale's is on Saturdays. We're lucky to have them, for a few months a year at least.