CLEVELAND — Initially proposed last summer, a possible moratorium on new dollar stores and other so-called ‘small box’ retailers in Cleveland remains under administrative and legal review, City Council officials said.
In the past decade, the number of dollar stores nationwide has ballooned to more than 30,000, prompting many municipalities to either propose or implement moratoriums on new stores in those communities. Locally, the city of Broadview Heights issued a one-year moratorium last fall.
Last week, the Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals voted down several proposed variances that developers needed to build a new Dollar General store in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood near the intersection of Pearl and State Roads. In the panel’s decision, board members cited zoning concerns and community feedback. More than 100 people signed letters opposing the proposal.
“I think there is tremendous opportunity, especially for this area,” said City Councilman Kevin Kelley (Ward 13). “I think we can do better than a Dollar General and I think the community spoke and I think the result was right. There is a lot of great things happening. I just think we can do a lot better than a Dollar General.”
In a statement, a Dollar General representative said the company looks forward to, "continuing constructive conversations regarding our presence in Cleveland."
“Our customers are at the center of all that we do and we are proud to provide a convenient, affordable retail option to help customers save on every day items,” the statement said.
According to the websites of Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, there are more than 100 stores in Cleveland and its inner ring suburbs. Critics have claimed the small box retailers cluster in low-income neighborhoods and, in the process, box out small, independently-owned grocery stores.
Because an overwhelming majority of those stores do not offer fresh produce, critics claim that the proliferation of dollar stores has turned several of these communities into vast food deserts. However, Daniel Shoag, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University, said the most recent research shows consumer behavior is overwhelmingly predicated on affordability instead of access.
The study was published in 2019 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.
“Food consumption really doesn’t shift that much toward healthier options. The big challenge for lower income people is that healthy food is expensive. Access is a piece of it but not necessarily a big piece of it,” Shoag said. “It can be easy to mistake the presence of a dollar store for them causing that problem. Just because two things move together doesn’t mean one causes the other.”
Councilman Kelley said a proposed moratorium on new dollar stores will be something the council needs to review.
“There may be some downfalls that we’re not seeing. In this particular case, it seems like the right result was achieved by going through the zoning process,” Councilman Kelley said. “Maybe we need to take a look at, as a city, what do we want our city to look like? What retail operations do we want in our city? It Is definitely a conversation that we need to have.”