The snobs turn on low cost retail

  • 27 January 2020
  • NormanL

In the ongoing struggle between the elites and everyone else comes a story about low cost retail stores, and the effort to push them out of certain communities:

Should city governments dictate where you can shop for food? If your neighbors see a need for a store, and happily patronize it, should outsiders shut down that option?

These are the battle lines of the emerging movement against dollar stores. Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mesquite, Texas, Dekalb County, Georgia, New Orleans, Louisiana, and other municipalities nationwide are trying to limit the number of dollar stores that can serve their population.

The people who actually shop at dollar stores love them. The most frequent customers are seniors on fixed incomes, cash-strapped students, and busy parents. If you don’t have a car or access to public transit, there’s probably one within five miles of your house. If you drive, there’s a dollar store on your way to just about anywhere.

In a compact space, dollar stores stock household staples like toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, and pet supplies at rock-bottom prices. Relatively wealthy dollar store detractors exhibit the obliviousness of an out-of-touch aristocracy.Only Dollar Tree still prices all its goods at $1, but Family Dollar and Dollar General might have 10,000 products for that price, and reasonable deals on $2-$10 goods. It’s a place where almost anyone on any budget can splurge a little on treating themselves.

Groups seeking to punish low cost retail outlets through zoning laws, labor agreements, taxes, or other means is nothing new. Wal-Mart was a target of such efforts for years. The arguments used to push back on these disfavored (none dare call them "uncooth") stores is remarkably similar to the attacks on bigger stores:

Opponents of dollar stores often contradict each other or even themselves.

Critics objected when suburban growth sent stores running for whiter, more affluent suburbs. But dollar stores’ explicit attempts to reverse this trend—to set up affordable retail options in poorer, underserved neighborhoods—are somehow also the target of scorn.

You’ll also hear critics claim dollar stores engage in “predatory” behavior by offering prices that are simultaneously too low (undercutting potential competitors) and also too high (as compared to a per-unit cost at the Costco 15 miles away).

Haters complain retail jobs offered by dollar stores are “low quality and low-wage” but also that dollar stores don’t create enough of these low-quality, undesirable jobs. One is reminded of the Woody Allen line complaining about a restaurant’s “terrible food...and such small portions!”

We can understand and appreciate if someone doesn't want to shop at a particular store. But those are personal choices made with individual time and dollars. They are not the basis for sound public policy, let alone dictating the choices others make. There's a word that: "snobbery."