Dallas City Council Members are debating how and whether to regulate small discount retail establishments known as dollar stores.
They’re not really grocery stores but some council members want to see the stores sell more fresh produce and meat because of the lack of grocery stores in some parts of Dallas.
An activist trying to reopen a grocery store that failed even with city incentives says dollar stores are not the answer for areas where fresh food is hard to find.
In the Highland Hills neighborhood near Simpson Stuart Road and Bonnie View Road, a Family Dollar store is the main source of food.
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“We have a freezer with the produce and stuff, such as frozen, such as pizzas. We have a cooler for milk, dairy,” said clerk Cassandra Dawson.
She said it might be possible to make adjustments to the store for fresh produce and meat but it would be a big decision for management.
That is what some members of the Dallas City Council Quality of Life Committee said they want to see happen, perhaps with city incentives.
“For the ability to kind of reoutfit their store for what it is that we're trying to accomplish,” Committee Chairman Adam Bazaldua said.
Several years ago, the City of Dallas offered a $3 million incentive to any full-service grocer that agreed to open in areas considered a food desert where groceries are far away. No stores accepted the offer.
Bazaldua suggested that a similar incentive amount could be divided among several dollar stores willing to add necessary equipment for fresh food.
“We don’t want them to be the enemy but at the same time, we want to figure out how we better partner so they provide the things that our residents are wanting, what they’re needing, what they’re requiring,” Councilman Omar Narvaez said.
Some officials have suggested that too many dollar stores in an area discourages regular grocery stores from entering and that spacing requirements could be justified. Other cities have taken such steps according to a Dallas briefing Monday.
“Some neighborhoods you’ve got grocery stores lined up right next to each other. Ours are miles apart,” Councilman Casey Thomas said.
To address the lack of healthy food in Highland Hills years ago the city invested $2.8 million in the redevelopment of a strip center that included a grocery store, but the store failed.
Now activist Bruce Carter is working to reopen that store as part of a bigger plan to also address other community problems that may discourage regular grocers from serving the area.
“So we're not just talking about putting groceries on a shelf, because that doesn't work. We got to deal with some of the behavior issues in the community, issues where its poverty driven,” Carter said.
So far, the city has refused Carter’s request for $2.4 million from the City of Dallas that he said is needed to reopen the store, launch the other programs and attract additional investment.
“We have banks that are prepared to make capital investments now,” Carter said.
The district office of Dallas City Council Member Tennell Atkins is just a block away from the shuttered grocery store.
Atkins said he is not involved in decisions about Carter’s plan but was very closely involved with the earlier effort for a grocery store.
Atkins said grocery stores operate on very slim profit margins.
“The neighborhood has got to be safe, and this was a hot spot area, crime was up high, theft was up high. So, 1% profit margin, that's the deal,” Atkins said.
Atkins and Carter agreed that it may be difficult to make dollar stores fill the complete role as food providers.
“Look at the business perspective. A dollar store is not a grocery store,” Atkins said.
Clerk Cassandra Dawson said she worked at both the closed grocery store on Simpson Stuart Road and the Family Dollar store around the corner on Bonnie View.
“The prices were too high over there and I think over here they are very reasonable,” she said.
All of these elements are part of the puzzle for how to get food sold everywhere in Dallas.
The committee members asked city staff to return in January with additional information and options on how to deal with dollar stores.