Editor’s Note: ViaNolaVie is working with the founder and producers of the The Listening Post. TLP is a community media project that aims to meet residents deep in their own neighborhoods, on porches, at libraries, in barbershops, and start conversations about local news in New Orleans and both get and share important information about life in the city.
Each week on their WWNO radio segment, TLP explores issues ranging from healthcare and WhoDat, to tattoos and transportation. Listeners are able to contribute via TLP recording devices at local libraries or via a text messaging service, which then became source material for these programs. This piece aired on September 25, 2014.
WWNO’s Listening Post project asks questions about local news in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and reports back on the community’s response. This week the Listening Post team asks: do dollar stores reflect the economy where they are built, or do they drive the economic identity of the area?
If you add up the Dollar Generals, Family Dollars, Dollar Trees, and throw in ten or so Save-a-Lots, you’re pretty close to 100 or more dollar-type stores in the New Orleans area.
That’s a national trend. Dollar stores have seen a 10 percent annual growth in sales nationally the last 10 years. But what does that mean for a city like New Orleans, where around 27 percent of the population lives below the poverty line?
Greg Rigamer is a local urban planning consultant.
“As a practical matter, it indicates that we have a disproportionate percentage of households on the lower end of the income scale,” he says.
Rigamer says the appearance of more dollar stores in a community doesn’t mean things are changing; it means they already changed.
“Maybe it’s not a shift, maybe it’s just a recognition of what’s there,” he says.
This week we asked people how many dollar stores are in their neighborhood and how often they shop there. Here are some of the responses we got:
“7 dollar stores. Maybe 2-5 times a week. Groceries mostly and paper products sometimes. There aren’t many big grocery stores in my area of St. Bernard parish.”
“None in my neighborhood (Napoleon at Prytania). Don’t shop at the ones nearby on Claiborne”
“There aren’t any in my neighborhood. But I’ve stopped at one maybe 4 times in about 5 years looking for candy or stuff to augment my Mardi Gras costume. (I re-read that and kinda hate myself right now, but it’s the truth)”
“The one on broad st at bienville was built entirely by a Hispanic Crewe that was not from New Orleans, also there were no women on the crew either!!”
“Three in my neighborhood, one coming soon. I shop their very rarely, once or twice a year. I normally buy cleaning supplies like brushes and buckets or large Rubbermaid tubs for organization.”
“Not sure if there is one near me. I don’t shop there.”
“Only one in close proximity. I work with a not for profit group and shop at dollar store a few times a year to get knickknack giveaways for the kids. sometimes they have off the wal crafts that are neat too.”
“Too many items at the $store don’t even cost 75 cents at save-a-lot.”
“Just moved in July, there’s 2 I think. I’ve been to the Dollar General 2 times. Laundry soap one time, zip lock bags the next time.”
“There are a handful. I would only go there if I needed something for a Halloween/Mardi gras costume or some such.”
“3 stores: once a month: cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and paper towels.”
“Two I shop there at least three times a month. Household products and food items.”
“Around 3 stores , i don’t buy to often, maybe 4 times in a year, I buy birthday cards , gifts bags and wrap paper.”
“One. There is one that opened on chef near my house. I go there to buy dry goods, which means I hardly ever go there.”
“I don’t know, and I don’t shop there!”
“Between Dowmonn rd.and Bullard, there are about 10-12 dollar store, s to to many, I only shop at tha real dollar store, dollar tree.”
“yes I shop get cleaning supplies and washing powder.”
“There are two dollars within my neighborhood. I shop about every other day. For personal and cleaning supplies, sometime for food items”
“There are 2 in my neighborhood, just 2 blocks from each other. I go there maybe once a year, only if I’m waiting for the Broad bus & need to get out of the heat.”
“5 and counting dollar stores. I shop their about once a month. I usually buy greeting cards. :-)”
The Listening Post team spends a lot of time traveling back and forth to New Orleans East as part of our work, and we’ve noticed more and more dollar stores popping up along Chef Menteur Highway. There’s one stretch in particular where there’s a Dollar General, then a Family Dollar, then another Dollar General.
Dillard University Sociology professor Doctor Beverly Wright lives in the East, and she’s been keeping track of dollar stores too.
Wright says as the rents rise in New Orleans, lower income residents, namely people who lived in public housing before Katrina, are finding affordable apartments in New Orleans East. And dollar stores have followed that housing shift.
“It was just a sign to us that things were changing,” she says. “I just know that we didn’t have dollar stores in my neighborhood before now, and people were still shopping. But if you change the demographics, for people with incomes at a certain level, then a dollar store is where lower income people shop.”
Wright says her biggest concern is that lower income New Orleanians are getting pushed to the fringes of the city, without adequate amenities, where dollar stores are often the most convenient option.
“People have been moved without a proper infrastructure. And that causes a hardship on the people who have already been pushed out of the neighborhoods where they were. They didn’t move to the East voluntarily, with no automobiles, no transportation, a distance away from where they worked,” she says.