Toledo Takes Dollar Stores to Church

The Rev. Dr. Donald Perryman was born and raised into the Black church in Toledo, Ohio. Since 1997, he has served as the Senior Pastor at The Center of Hope Community Baptist Church, in the central city, where he has led a religious, social, and political movement to empower his community. 

Toledo’s Dorr Street was once home to a thriving Black community rich in art, music, culture, and small businesses. But after decades of disinvestment, mass incarceration, and industrialization, neighborhoods in Toledo, like Dorr Street, were stripped of their wealth. In 2015, Dollar General saw this as an opportunity to move in. But Dr. Perryman knew that chain dollar stores preyed on struggling communities. As he says, “they’re a cancer on vulnerable urban neighborhoods,” and he was unwilling to let Toledo be their next victim. He banded together with neighborhood groups, government officials, and allies to implement a moratorium to prevent dollar store construction. The moratorium expired without the city notifying Dr. Perryman, and now the fight has started all over again. 

Dr. Perryman is not deterred. His work in the church has grounded him in the long-term nature of the fight for justice. “I don’t know how long it’ll take,” he says, “but we plan to win.” 

In the second half of the episode, Kennedy Smith, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, weaves Dr. Perryman’s story into the broader fight against dollar stores raging across the country. Kennedy talks about the disconnect between what communities say they want and what planning commissions and city councils are actually doing. She details how dollar stores create food deserts, attract crime, extract wealth from local communities, and endanger workers. Dollar chain stores are threatening the very fabric that makes a community. 

Finally, Kennedy explains that Dr. Perryman’s work and movement-building at the local level is critical to ending dollar store proliferation, but these local leaders need help. Not only do state and federal officials need to reinvigorate our antitrust laws to prohibit dollar stores from using predatory tactics to crush independent retailers, she explains, but they “need to have the political courage to enforce them.” 

Listen to the episode on the podcast platform of your choice. 

New Report: The Dollar Store Invasion 

Stop Dollar Stores in Your Community: A Strategy Guide 

17 Problems: How Dollar Store Chains Hurt Communities 

Center of Hope Community Baptist Church 

United Pastors for Social Empowerment – Dr. Perryman founded United Pastors for Social Empowerment (UPSE), a “solution-centered” coalition of faith leaders working in collaboration with institutional representatives and other communities of practice, to challenge the disparities affecting the poor, marginalized, and communities of color through public policy, community development and political empowerment.

OSHA fines Dollar Tree for safety violations.

Dr. Perryman’s Book Recommendations:

Reggie Rucker: Hello and welcome to the long awaited brand new season of Building Local Power. I am your co-host, Reggie Rucker, and if you’re a regular listener, you know the show has always been about challenging corporate monopolies and expanding the power of people to shape their own future. Along this season, we’re going to highlight those frontline stories in the fight against monopoly power by talking with people from all over the country who are actively engaging in building more equitable, thriving local economies. We’re going to take you from a reverend fighting dollar store proliferation in Ohio to a local fisherman being threatened by private equity firms in Massachusetts, all in the name of saving and creating self-reliant communities, but I don’t want to give it all away so stay tuned for this week. It’s time to turn it over to the peanut butter to my jelly or the jelly to my peanut butter, Luke Gannon. What’s up, Luke?
Luke Gannon: You know, Reggie, I’ve had this sort of empty feeling these last couple of months, and I realized being the peanut butter to your jelly and the jelly to your peanut butter is exactly what I’ve been missing. It’s great to be back. Anyway, I am Luke Gannon, and today, Dr. Donald L. Perryman is telling his story. Dr. Perryman is the senior pastor of the Center of Hope Baptist Church in Toledo, Ohio. Under Dr. Perryman’s leadership, he has connected the community’s social, political, and economic life to its spiritual and cultural foundations. His work in the church has reverberated to his community in Toledo at large.
Dr. Donald Perr…: I was almost literally born into the black working class church founded by my grandfather, and they tell me that, as a toddler, maybe I used to break protocol by going into the pulpit where he sat during the worship and sat in his lap as a child, so I can trace my earliest beginnings to the black church. I’m a child of parents and grandparents who came north as part of the great migration to pursue jobs and flee the oppression of the Jim Crow South, so I was basically a first generation student attending college during the civil rights anti-war movement, and experienced a lot of activism on college campuses all over the world through TV and personally at the University of Toledo. I distinctly remember while being there, students were shot by the National Guard at Kent State University down the road and at Jackson State, and we saw a lot of students being involved in the Civil Rights Movement such as SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
I left school for a period and started a family, and then went back into business school in the 1980s when conservatism, hip-hop, supply-side economics, and the deregulation of savings and loans all converged, and got a job in corporate America trying to perverse spaces that were created for privileged people, and I’m thinking that this is finally my calling in life and I let my feelings be known about what I considered to be unfairness and injustice in my company’s social responsibility and how they were dispersing resources. There was just some dissonance and discord between my inner and outer lives, and I left the corporate world. This was at a time I was still involved in church, and all around my church, we could see evidences of the crack epidemic, mass incarceration, and the deindustrialization of jobs was taking place. It was then that I perceived the Lord telling me that, “The world of finance and banking is really not your call. God wants you to carry out His work in fighting for justice, empowerment, and inclusion through the church.”
Luke Gannon: Dr. Perryman has lived in Toledo for his entire life. He has served as the senior pastor for his church in Toledo since 1997, built a coalition of faith leaders working to challenge the disparities affecting the poor, marginalized, and communities of color, and created a home for his family.
Dr. Donald Perr…: I think at every critical juncture of my life, somebody has appeared to help me early in life, went through a tragedy which I think probably all reverends have some piece of pain or some cloud in their background that God uses to keep them grounded, and people appeared, helped me all the way. I was tapped in as mentors, really great people. Politically, they call Toledo a blueberry and a strawberry patch. It’s a blue county in terms of politics, but the rest of Ohio is pretty much red and very, very conservative. Well, Toledo is, I consider, socially and culturally conservative, but there are a lot of really good people, and the racial hierarchies are still here reflected in the disparities that exist, and so I’ve lived here all of my life and I like it a lot. I have grown children who live here and I have grown children who have left for what they consider to be better opportunities elsewhere.
Luke Gannon: As the senior pastor of Center of Hope Baptist Church, Dr. Perryman works tirelessly to empower and bring justice to the oppressed.
Dr. Donald Perr…: My frame, I guess, comes from this is when I look at the scriptures, particularly the gospels, I see that Jesus was a poor oppressed Jew, born in Palestine, a brown minority in an area controlled by the Romans. He was born to a poor single mother and he was the stepson of a working class father. Jesus showed solidarity with the oppressed of His time, and He led this religious movement, so to speak, to empower His community that was living under this politically and economically abusive system of Roman colonialism. In other words, Jesus and His community were victims of injustice perpetuated by an imperialistic Roman Empire.
I try to connect what Jesus did with marginalized people in first century Palestine with our experience today. That includes marginalization or oppression in all of its many forms, whether you’re talking about gender, sexual preference, social status, class, income, disability, and the intersection of any of those with race and or ethnicity. I try to speak to that situation as well as to the subjugation and domination by the powerful who’s unjust practice as often leave others poor and sick. That’s my frame, that’s how I see things, and that’s how I operate.
Luke Gannon: Dr. Perryman has applied his framework of fighting for justice to the proliferation of dollar stores in Toledo.
Dr. Donald Perr…: We started fighting against the proliferation of dollar stores in 2015. I just pulled together some neighborhood groups and government officials. We got notice from our city government that they wanted to do this project, and it was within a block of my church. We pulled together. I guess we would call them in organizational parlance, but they were people who maybe had funds or who were connected in city or county government to help us, and we just pulled that together and we met to protest the dollar store’s request to build a store in this historic area of Toledo, known as The Block.
The Block was our Bourbon Street. This was our Wall Street for Toledo. It was a thriving black community that had been rich in food, art, music, culture, activism. The Black Panthers were there during my college days, and it was home to over 70 black commercial enterprises. It was a neighborhood that formally had a lot of prestige and it meant a lot to the community. This community got destroyed by, I don’t know, suburbanization or disinvestment, and the residents had had enough of that decades long disinvestment. There was power in numbers, and we protested, got our data together, and we defeated the dollar stores. In the meantime, they came back, slipped through the cracks, we got a moratorium established where they could not do any more construction in the city. The city council changed and they slipped through the cracks, and now we’re fighting that fight all over again.
Well, I was livid and immediately started calling government leaders to find out how this happened because I felt like it could not happen without their knowledge. They don’t just start building a brand new building and city government does not know about it, so I was very unhappy. Again, Dorr Street in Toledo is a source of pride for the community, and then I learned to be keenly aware of lip service from city leaders and passive-aggressive resistance on their part where they don’t say they’re not going to work with you. They don’t say no, but they try to wait you out or put impossible demands on you. I’m cognizant that the dollar stores have a lot of resources, and sometimes, I even understand that the politicians would rather that the dollar store take on a small community coalition like ours than on the public office holder.
Luke Gannon: Dollar stores have endless resources, and they use these resources at the expense of communities. They have poor labor practices, erode community identity, extract wealth, and create and exacerbate food deserts.
Dr. Donald Perr…: There are cancer on vulnerable urban neighborhoods, and they prey on struggling communities. They force out locally-owned stores here in Toledo and other businesses, including the businesses that businesses do business with. They also can deter them from opening, and so a significant negative impact of the proliferation of dollar stores is that they worsen the problem of food deserts. Those in Toledo rarely, if ever, sell fresh produce or meats, but they go in and undercut the grocery stores on prices of everyday items and push them out of business. We know we’re finding in these neighborhoods that have an over population of dollar stores that we have higher obesity rate, heart problems, heart disease, diabetes, those rates are alarming and other social determinants of health are very, very poor compared to other neighborhoods.
Luke Gannon: Not only do dollar stores cause food deserts and lead to health deterioration, but they use their power to muscle local businesses out of the market.
Dr. Donald Perr…: I have a friend that talked about a very popular business that provided school supplies for teachers and for students. Within a short time, the construction of a new small box store, couple months this business that had been in Toledo for a long time was gone, and just in our inner city, our churches there, and we’ve just seen all of these businesses and houses turn to vacant lots. I imagine that that’s true in other cities, but it’s disturbing to me that there are so many vacant lots where my parents and grandparents used to own a lot of real estate, and that generational wealth and assets are completely gone. Again, this Dorr Street was a thriving, thriving community. We had over 70 businesses within a couple of blocks on Dorr Street, and these dollar stores have come in and just made the disinvestment continue.
Luke Gannon: Dr. Perryman goes on to share how working with city elected officials can sometimes pose additional challenges, especially when local officials are placing monetary and special interests over the interest of the communities they are elected to serve.
Dr. Donald Perr…: Dollar stores are powerful players with endless resources, and fighting them can be challenging because you have city council members who are constantly running for reelection and often they will pay more attention to a large well-funded entity from outside the community rather than a small coalition of groups. These politicians’ goal is to get reelected, so we have to fight that. That’s just part of the system.
Luke Gannon: Despite all of the obstacles, Dr. Perryman is not deterred. He explains how he is building a movement, pushing for citywide legislation, and working every day to bring health and justice to Toledo.
Dr. Donald Perr…: I think our challenge is to build a movement, so that is to do what we did before, but building this movement by convening community groups and government officials, and that’s needed to reverse any decades long disinvestment. We also want to, this time, create legislation for a healthy food overlay district that we might incentivize, help the government out to help incentivize grocery stores or other solutions, and maybe even restricting discount stores and stores that sell non-healthy food, but building a movement, and sometimes, that can be messy, particularly when you’re dealing with different groups, and in our case, maybe dealing with groups accustomed to struggling for a small slice of an ever shrinking pie. I think they’re called adversarial allies. They’re allies, but when you’re in competition for just a small amount of funds in your everyday work, it’s hard to come together.
There’s some obstacles, so my task has been to build bonds and trust among members and find a solution that we can all come together on and include the people who will use a solution as well, so we’ve made a lot of progress. We understand that the approach has to be both long term and short term. Somebody interviewed me once before and condescendingly called this fight that we’re fighting here in Toledo a David versus Goliath, which is true, but I had to remind them that David won that battle. I don’t know how long it’ll take, but we plan to win. I think victory looks like a major investment in the Dorr Junction in Inglewood Corridor that also includes this legislation that creates a healthy food overlay, and just as important as the existence of neighborhoods where all people have access to healthy, affordable, and culturally significant foods to lead healthy sustainable lives.
Luke Gannon: Now, as you all know, we are in the process of creating a Building Local Power Book Library, so we couldn’t let Dr. Perryman go without asking about a book that has inspired and impacted his life.
Dr. Donald Perr…: When I get involved in particularly something different, I go all in, and so I try to acquire all the resources connected to the matter at hand. I think there’s two books that have had a significant impact on this work. The first is called The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart, and that book is by one of the three co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza, and she has roots in Toledo. It’s in a biographical format, but it has tremendous insights for movement building. The other book is called How Change Happens by Leslie Crutchfield. Dr. Crutchfield studied many, many successful movements, and she talks about what were the common themes that made those movements successful as opposed to not successful.
Luke Gannon: We cannot thank Dr. Perryman enough for joining us on the show and telling his story. For the second half of this episode, we are jumping into an interview with Kennedy Smith, a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who will expand on what the dollar store fight looks like on a national level, but first, I’m going to kick it over to Reggie for a very short break.
Reggie Rucker: Thanks, Luke. Here’s the thing. This story you just heard is unique in many ways. Dr. Perryman is absolutely one of a kind. Toledo is a special place. When I think about my hometown of Modesto, I can tell you these places are always filled with remarkable people, but what’s not unique is the threat these chain dollar stores pose to communities like Toledo. Corporate concentration threatens communities everywhere. You can probably see it in your own community. For us to be effective in supporting communities like these with direct assistance and advocacy for policy change, we need the support of people like you, so if you can, even if it’s just $5, $10, whatever, you can, please head over to and support our work to fight corporate power and build thriving equitable communities.
If you’re looking for additional ways to support, we’ll always gladly accept a kind review wherever you get your podcast. These reviews make a huge difference in helping us reach a wider audience, so please feel free to leave one. All right, that’s our break. Thank you so much for listening in. Now, let’s get back to this show. Thank you, Kennedy, for joining us and sharing your expertise on everything dollar stores. We’re really excited about this report that we just released and all of the research and stories you’ve been collecting to help us really tell the story of the impact of dollar stores on communities. The question to you, Kennedy, is how strong is that perception that dollar stores are there to help low income communities, and why is that perception wrong? What are people getting wrong about this idea that they are helpful to low income communities?
Kennedy Smith: That’s a huge question there, Reggie. I guess I would say a couple of things. One is that I think the perception is very widespread that they are there to help lower income communities, struggling communities, because that’s the myth that the dollar store companies themselves perpetuate. They want communities to think that they’ll come into the community. It’s not them even. They usually hire developers to develop buildings for them, which they then lease. The developer is the one who is usually going to the planning commission meeting and seeking a zoning variance to build this store. What the developer will say, and perhaps dollar store companies have some plausible deniability because it’s the developer saying this, is that the store is going to hire six to 12 people and they’re going to be good paying jobs, and they’re going to be a credit to the community and compliment things that are available locally, and offer good prices.
The reality is that they’re going to hire three or four people, and they’re going to pay poor wages, and they’re going to artificially promote people to assistant managers so that they don’t have to pay overtime and they’re going to overwork them, and they’re going to harm a lot of locally-owned businesses. One of the things that Reverend Dr. Perryman said, which really hit me, was that one of the first businesses that comes to mind that was put out of business in Toledo was a school supply store. I think people often think that, “Oh, if any business is going to be threatened by a dollar store arriving, it’s going to be a grocery store,” but a school supply store, it shows you just how deeply these stores can get into a community and the damage that they can do. You can imagine, if you go buy your school supplies, notebooks and pens and a lunchbox at the dollar store, cumulatively, that’s going to add up to quite a bit.
If 500 families do that and spend 25 bucks each, then that could be the profit margin that means we make it or break it for a small, locally-owned business. I think the other thing that’s important for people to think about is that a locally-owned business is paying salaries, and paying rent, and paying property tax just like the dollar store is, but they’re also putting their money in a local financial institution, and they’re hiring a local advertising agency, and they’re hiring local cleaning staff and security staff, and they’re investing in a lot more than the dollar store is, and they’re paying rent locally. Whereas the dollar store is probably paying rent to an out of town, out of state developer who’s developed the building, so even that’s not accruing locally. Their profits, their money, at the end of the day, their registered till, is wired to a financial institution someplace else. It doesn’t even stay there.
The community is just not getting the economic spinoff benefit from a chain dollar store that it would be from a locally-owned business. The roots are very deep and it doesn’t take a whole lot for a dollar store to hurt, not just the grocery store, but a lot of other businesses too, card stores, hardware stores, toy stores, bookstores, all of them are going to suffer a bit. A typical dollar store does about over two million dollars a year in sales, so look around your district and your community, your neighborhood and see where’s that two million coming from because it’s not like it’s attracting new shoppers. It’s coming from shoppers who are just shopping in this store instead of that one.
Luke Gannon: Kennedy, how does the dollar store story that Dr. Perryman told in Toledo stack up to others’ city’s experiences across the country in terms of whether it’s local government and community engagement or in terms of the impacts that they have on communities? How does this look in different places around the country?
Kennedy Smith: There are a lot of things about Dr. Perryman’s story in Toledo that I hear over and over again in communities, and then there are some things that are a little bit different. The things that I would say are common are that he and others that he alerted to this have this moment of waking up and realizing, “Wait a minute, this is not at all what we want our community to be.” Toledo even has their 2020 comprehensive plan is very clear in stating that we want to create an environment that fosters locally-owned businesses that are going to build generational wealth in the community. It says that in its plan, and yet what is the community doing? It’s making decisions that run completely contrary to that.
In that way, I would say Dr. Perryman’s experiences like that of many, many other places that I’ve come across where people are shocked to see the disconnect between what we, as a community, say we want and what you, as our planning commission and our city council, are actually doing, and not knowing how to tie those things together and bring the civic leaders back on track. Another thing that Dr. Perryman said that I see happen all the time is that the dollar stores come in and they want to open a store and they’re able to defeat them. The first couple of stores, they’re able to say, “No, you can’t. We don’t want you to come in for these reasons. You’re not meeting our zoning code in this way,” or blah, blah, whatever it might be, but they come back again, and they come back again, and they come back again, and eventually, they’re going to catch the city with its guard down or they’re going to find some loophole in the local zoning code, and they’re going to find a way to get in. That’s why it’s so important.
I think that Dr. Perryman, he realizes this obviously, and he’s moving in this direction, he wants to create a healthy food overlay district in Toledo that not only would limit dollar store development there so that the neighborhoods are not being overrun, saturated with these stores, but that also incentivizes development of healthier food options, whether that’s a full service grocery store or a fresh food market or a farmer’s market or urban gardens, the whole panoply of things that are going to create a richer, healthier food environment for neighborhood residents. That’s what communities need to work towards doing is not just fighting off the individual threats that pop up, but taking long-term action to put in place city legislation that’s going to make sure that this doesn’t keep happening over and over again.
One of the things that Dr. Perryman represents that I see occasionally and I would like to see more often in communities that I work with is this dogged determination. He is going to win this. He is in it for the long haul. He’s been fighting this for almost a decade, and he’s not giving up the whole David and Goliath analogy, and he was like, “David won.” He’s going to win this, and it takes that level of determination, and he also is a great collaborator. He’s pulling people together to work on this together. In that way, I think he represents a very important lesson and example for communities that are trying to do this. So, some things that are common, some things that are not. I certainly admire him very much for the determination that he’s bringing to this, and I’m certain he’s going to succeed.
Reggie Rucker: You mentioned, actually, in your conversation in the stories that Dr. Perryman told, there were mention of a fair number of the harms that come about when these dollar stores move in. In the report that we’ve released, part of the collection of products that we released is a call-out to 17 problems that are created when dollar stores move into the community. Because we don’t have enough time, we can’t go through all 17 problems here, but we will have a link to the report and you can find all the 17 problems. Kennedy, I wanted to get maybe two or three of the arms that either our most common and that people should be most aware of because they’re most common, or maybe one or two that are the most surprising and maybe people don’t immediately think are going to be harms caused by the dollar stores. Take us through a few examples.
Kennedy Smith: Sure, and I should probably mention that these are the 17 most common problems that I hear. I have a longer list, but you got to stop it someplace, and these are the ones that I hear mentioned more than once in my conversations with people concerned about dollar for proliferation.
Reggie Rucker: Good note.
Kennedy Smith: We’ve talked about their impact on existing businesses, and that’s obviously front and center in my mind of thinking of here’s real damage. Some of the others that I think are most alarming, and they’re all kind of related to the chain dollar stores business models. One is that they attract crime, and that really alarms communities. There are a number of battles that are going on right now that are really pivoting on that one issue. The reason that they attract crime is because they’re understaffed. They don’t have on staff security and they only have a couple of people on duty at a time, and they don’t have the capacity to be stocking the shelves and unpacking boxes in the storeroom, and also helping customers, and also then staffing the cash register.
There was a policeman in Dayton who basically said, “These are like walk-in ATMs.” You just walk in and take the money that you want because it’s so easy to do. In the past several years, these robberies have become more and more violent, so now it’s routine. Every day, when I look at my newsfeed and my email, I see story after story about shootings and stabbings, a machete attack not too long ago in dollar store robberies. They also tend to, because they deliver merchandise quickly to these stores and the staff don’t have the capacity to unpack them, so they stack merchandise in the aisles and in the front windows. Police who are driving by and pedestrians going by or cars can’t see into the storefront, and so they can’t see if there’s a problem going on inside, so it kind of feeds on itself. That’s a big issue.
There also is a problem because dollar store developers, since the dollar stores aren’t going to pay them a whole lot in rent, they tend to seek out cheap land, cheap locations for their stores. Because of that, they often locate in places that have drainage problems, stormwater runoff problems, traffic problems, things that are associated with marginal areas that aren’t well-served by city services or whatever. I’ve seen lots of communities that are saying, “Hey, we’ve had a dollar store here for a few years, and trash is accumulating and it’s getting stuck in this storm sewer, and it’s flooding all the time,” and because they built it in this hollow, it means that now the neighboring residential properties are getting flooding problems and they’re having seepage in their basements. There’re all kinds of problems that are related to that, and again, it’s related to their business model. They look for inexpensive locations, inexpensive land, and that’s the land that’s most problematic and doesn’t have the good services.
Those are a few. There are plenty of other problems that they cause. They have labor issues, all kinds of in-store safety issues, they tend not to pay much attention to whether they’re building in a place that has natural or cultural resources that might be impacted by their presence, they extract wealth from the community. That one, we’ve talked about a little bit in terms of the benefits that locally-owned businesses have over chain retailers. When you play that out over 10 or 20 years, you can see, “Oh, this community, if not for the dollars for proliferation, probably could have supported 20 or 30 locally-owned businesses,” and that would’ve translated into these families who could send their kids to school, and could invest more in their communities, and have more of a livelihood here that they could pass on money to their kids when they retire.
It’s a tragic, multi-generational story that’s being written here largely because from the way that I see it, local governments don’t really have the political will, the courage to say, “Nope, we’re not going to do this.” We need to turn our comprehensive plans, our vision for our communities into tangible action and put it in the zoning code. We need to make it a law and we have to stick with that, but often local governments are just too nervous to do that. They’re nervous to go up against the big chains, and the wealth and power that they have.
Luke Gannon: Wow. Yeah, when I was making my way across the country, I was going into a number of dollar stores in various communities to photograph some of them. It’s not like I didn’t believe when I read some of your report, Kennedy.
Kennedy Smith: You didn’t believe me?
Luke Gannon: Yeah, so I had to see it for myself, I guess. I was just so surprised that almost every aisle in every dollar store, despite whether it was an urban dollar store or a rural dollar store, was packed with excess or just packed with merchandise. You couldn’t even move past it. It was crazy.
Kennedy Smith: It is crazy. OSHA has find Dollar Tree, just Dollar Tree alone, almost 10 million in the past few years because of its safety violations like that because it creates unsafe conditions for customers and for workers, plus also their back rooms are so stacked with merchandise that they often find that emergency exits are blocked, they can’t get to electrical panels, lots of hazards because of their business model.
Luke Gannon: Yeah.
Reggie Rucker: I’ll say real quick that we’re going to reference this at the end and the show notes where we’re going to have a lot of great resources, but yeah, I’ve just been blown away by the TikTok videos of employees that have been fed up and talking about how it’s a literal disaster that these employees are dealing with. I know there was one story that came out recently where the staff members just quit. They’re, “We are not doing this anymore. We are walking out.” To what Luke was saying, there’s so much insanity involved in this whole process, and when you see it firsthand, it is mind-blowing and surprising that this could exist.
Kennedy Smith: Yeah, it is surprising that it exists. To get back to some of the things that Dr. Perryman were talking about, one thing to mention is that in smaller communities, everyone sees what’s happening in the dollar store. If you’re in a rural town of 800 people or 1,000 people, everyone sees it, and so the path to defeating dollar stores and passing legislation to ensure that a community isn’t overrun with them tends to be a little bit different in those places. In urban neighborhoods where Dr. Perryman lives and works for his churches, it’s the people who live in that neighborhood who are the ones who see the damage up close, and the people who are downtown and sitting on city council might be oblivious to it and might think, “Oh, they’re exaggerating. It’s not that big a deal.”
That speaks to the fact that dollar stores have an uncanny tendency to locate in black and brown neighborhoods in cities, in urban areas. They’re finding the areas not only where there might be unmet market demand, which is good for their profits, but where there might be not as much political resistance where people don’t feel as empowered to speak out and take action or don’t have the leadership to know how to do that, and that’s a real tragedy too. It really is taking advantage of people who don’t have the political resources to be able to combat bad things happening in their neighborhoods.
Reggie Rucker: Actually, one of the things that Luke and I have been talking about recently is there’s this idea of political influence and resources, and then also, when you talk about that disconnect between communities and power, it’s the institutions that these are unwilling to listen. We talk about Dr. Perryman telling his story of you get this moratorium and there’s this supposed agreement? It’s like, “We’re all on the same page. This is the direction we’re going in,” and then for leaders to come in and say, “Actually, we’re just going to disregard this vision that we share.” That ability to coldly disregard a community, even though you do hear them and you do see them, and you’re just going to disregard them, that feels just insulting, frankly insulting.
Kennedy Smith: It really does. It is. It’s disregarding the will of the people.
Luke Gannon: In the report, Kennedy, you write about a community in Micanopy, Florida, and one of the things you mentioned, one of the harms that you mentioned is that dollar stores can been to places that are significant culturally and they can basically move into those places with disregard for that cultural significance, so would’ve been a few of the most successful strategies that communities have used and that local governments have used to fight these dollar stores off.
Kennedy Smith: I think that in Micanopy, people there are very tuned into local history and very aware of the cultural resources they have, and so that was helpful because when everyone saw, “Oh, my gosh. This is where the dollar store, where they want to develop it?” There were a lot of people who realized, “Wait a minute, this is the site of the last battle in the Great Seminole War, and there’s a burial ground there. What on earth are they doing?”, and so there were a lot of people that came out of the woodwork and said, “Wait a minute, this is a bridge too far. This is just not going to happen. We have to protect this,” but there are a lot of places that don’t have that community awareness of the resources that they have. There was that town in Pennsylvania, Orville, Pennsylvania, in the Poconos, we found there because the Nature Conservancy had under contract to the County Planning Commission years ago done a county survey basically of plant species there.
They found that there was this very rare sedge that existed only in one place in the county, and it was right there on the lot, this fight where the dollar store was going to be developed, and people didn’t realize it. Nobody had read that report in eons and they just brushed it off like, “It’s okay. We don’t care.” I think that it helps to have people be cognizant of what the important assets are that a community has. They don’t always have that, but sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. The common elements that the messages that seem to rally people most effectively are pointing out the harm to existing businesses and really explaining how that’s going to happen. I think that, again, Dr. Perryman’s example of the school supply store is an excellent example. Everyone expects that of grocery stores, but when you put it in numbers and realize, this grocery store is probably going to lose $1,000 a day in sales when this dollar store opens.
The food that dollar stores sells tends to be processed food, not the healthiest of stuff, but it’s the stuff that has the highest profit margin, whether it’s for the dollar store or the locally-owned grocery store. Those are the things that really make their profits versus the fresh produce, which is more or less of a lost leader. It’s going to hurt existing businesses. I think if you explain that in dollars and cents and really explain 1,000 bucks a day versus it’s going to hurt local businesses, the more facts communities can put forward and educate the community to explain this is the damage that could be done tangibly, people begin to get it a little bit better. Then I think it’s just really political courage. I think that there has to be a critical mass of people who are willing to stand up and say, “This is really important. We need to get your attention. Planning Commission City Council, you really have to act on this.” You need that mass of people have the political courage to step forward and say, “Enough.”
Reggie Rucker: A lot of the conversation we’ve had today centers around the tools available, the strategies at the local level, and our report. We certainly talk a fair amount about that in the variety of products that we release. Then there’s also a big focus on what the federal government can do, should be doing, the way that regulators and policymakers should be thinking about chain dollar store proliferation. Can you give us a little bit of insight into the way we’re thinking about the federal government involvement in creating structures and systems that can keep these chain dollar stores at bay a little bit?
Kennedy Smith: Sure. That’s another big piece of this puzzle is why is it that local governments are the ones that are fighting this battle? Why is this all happening at the ground level when we’ve had in place for a century almost a variety of laws that prohibit the kind of behavior that dollar store chains are getting away with, things like the Robinson-Patman Act, which say, “You as a supplier cannot charge X price for this product, for this business, and Y price for the product for this other business”? That’s happening. The dollars stores, because of their market power, are able to get discounts that just aren’t available to locally-owned businesses.
The Clayton Act, there are lots of laws already on the books simply aren’t being enforced, and if they were, these dollars for our business models simply would not work. We need to change that, so communities need to have the resources that they need to win these local battles and put in place the tools that will prevent dollars for proliferation from happening, but our federal officials, and this is true at the state level too, states can do this too, need to reinvigorate their antitrust laws that have been in place for a long time. They just need to reinvigorate them, and again, have the political courage to enforce them.
Reggie Rucker: If you could pick one thing of this stew that needs to come together to make for success in this fight against dollar stores, what would be the thing that you would point to that’s most central?
Kennedy Smith: I think it’s making sure that your local zoning laws truly reflect the community’s vision for how it wants to evolve. I think that’s the most important thing is every 10 years or so in this country, it varies from state to state, but more or less every decade, people come together, local governments hold public meetings, and people come together, and they talk about what they want in terms of the kinds of businesses, the kinds of parks, the kind of educational system, their aims for how the community builds wealth and how it raises its young people.
It goes through all of that, and they produce these beautiful comprehensive plans, vision plans, and they’re worthless unless you can turn them into shoe leather, as they say. You have to turn them into actual laws, actual rules that then people adhere to and guide the community. I think that that’s where the biggest downfall is that I see is every community, if you ask any community leader in the country, they’re going to say, “Yes, we want to build wealth. We want local opportunities for locally-owned businesses. We want young people to stay in the community, and invest their intelligence and brilliance and creativity in the community, but we’re going to let all these chains in and we’re going to sell them cheap land,” and none of it’s going to work because of that. I think that’s the one thing.
Luke Gannon: What an excellent end. Thank you so much, Kennedy, for your wealth of knowledge and for joining us on the show today. Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to this episode of Building Local Power. You can find links to everything discussed today by going to and clicking on the show page for this episode. That is
Reggie Rucker: If you’re interested in learning more about dollar stores, we have tons of resources for you. Go to Again, that’s We’ve got the latest report for you, the strategy guide, the 17 problems to help with the strategy, new stories and examples of communities that are winning their fights against dollar stores, we have it all. Again, that’s If you like the podcast, please share with your family, your friends, everybody you know, so that we can build this movement to keep dollar stores from overtaking your communities. Please don’t forget all of your reviews, likes, and donations help produce this podcast and support the research and resources that we make available on our website. This podcast is produced by Luke Gannon and me, Reggie Rucker, and edited by Drew Burshbock. Our brand new theme music is composed by ILSR’s very own communications manager, Andrew Frank. Thank you for listening to Building Local Power.


Like this episode? Please help us reach a wider audience by rating Building Local Power on Apple Podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts. And please become a subscriber! If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power Podcast Homepage

If you have show ideas or comments, please email us at Also, join the conversation by talking about #BuildingLocalPower on Twitter and Facebook!


Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | RSS


Audio Credit: Andrew Frank, ILSR’s Digital Communications Manager

Photo Credit: Andrew Frank, ILSR’s Digital Communications Manager

Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter and Facebook and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up for our ILSR general newsletter.

Avatar photo
Follow Luke Gannon:
Luke Gannon

Luke Gannon is the Research and Communications Associate for the Independent Business team.

Avatar photo
Latest posts from Luke
Avatar photo
Follow Reggie Rucker:
Reggie Rucker

As Communications Director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Reggie develops communications strategies and leads campaigns to build public support for ILSR local power initiatives. Contact Reggie with media inquiries.