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Eastern New Orleans – Barren of retail diversity, to get another Dollar outlet

25th September 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Dollar stores are popping up like mushrooms, and New Orleans East has a dozen of them, with six along Chef Menteur Highway alone. Earlier this year, community groups prevented Dollar General from selling liquor at its five stores in the East. That was a victory, but after years of talk about keeping these vendors in check, another dollar store will open in the area soon, Sylvia Scineaux-Richard, president of the East New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission, or ENONAC, said last week.

Scineaux-Richard didn’t realize just how many dollar stores were there until she saw a map of them last winter. “We trying to keep Dollar General from selling liquor here,” she said. “The map showed 12 dollar stores, run by different companies, with several sites clustered together. It would be fine to have one or two of them, but their numbers are well beyond that,” she said. “We want a diverse retail base here. Instead, we’ve been branded as a discount community, and that’s keeping other retailers away.”Dollar-Tree-Family-Dollar-0

New Orleans East is part of the Ninth Ward. After opposition by the ward’s residents, Tennessee-based Dollar General in late March dropped its request for a Conditional Use Permit to sell beer, wine and liquor in Orleans Parish. Before that, at a Neighborhood Participation Program meeting held at the Andrew Sanchez Center in the Lower Ninth, residents said they didn’t want liquor sold near schools or the loitering and littering that those sales can generate, Scineaux-Richard said. Young people head into dollar stores for after-school snacks, and teens do weekend shopping there.

After community input, Dollar General said in late March that its New Orleans East sites wouldn’t sell alcohol at 11020 Morrison Road, 5700 Crowder Boulevard, 8400 Chef Menteur Highway, 10600 Chef Menteur and 13100 Chef Menteur.

Meanwhile, however, new dollar stores are sprouting across the city. A Family Dollar is expected to open at 7313 Chef Menteur Highway near St. Mary’s Academy by the end of this year, according to consultant Trey Tapp, a New Orleans East resident. Citing a different date, Randy Guiler, investor-relations vice president at Dollar Tree—which owns Family Dollar, said plans are to open a Family Dollar store in the East in next year’s first quarter. He wouldn’t say where, however.

“We have the most dollar stores of any area in the city,” Tapp said. “There’s one at every intersection on Chef Menteur.” Why this concentration? Inexpensive commercial property is a major reason, said Scineaux-Richards, who works as a realtor. Tapp said income and population size are also factors. New Orleans East has over 80,000 residents, mostly African-American. They include middle-income and professional people, along with others who are lower-paid and living in subsidized housing.

Dollar stores target low-income shoppers, Tapp said.

Representation of a new Family Dollar store, expected to opne at 7313 Chef Menteur Highway this winter.

Representation of a new Family Dollar store, expected to opne at 7313 Chef Menteur Highway this winter.

Dollar Tree’s first-quarter 2017 earnings were disappointing because of less shopping, which was attributed to low-income customers receiving income-tax refunds later this year and impacts from last year’s reduced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. After a downturn in the company’s stock in June, its shares rebounded in August, however, thanks to better second-quarter earnings. Consumers still view Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores as offering great value and convenience, Dollar Tree’s CEO Bob Sasser said in late August.

Besides cleaning supplies, paper products and toiletries, New Orleans East dollar stores sell dry, canned and refrigerated food, including milk, pizza, ice cream and frozen dinners, but no fresh produce. The nearest dollar store selling bananas and apples is Dollar General Market at 2001 St. Bernard Avenue in Gentilly. In that company’s branding, “Market” means fresh food.

Tapp said until Walmart reopened in mid-2014, the East had a Winn-Dixie, a Save-A-Lot and some smaller grocers selling fresh food. Produce would probably be welcomed by dollar store customers in New Orleans East, he said. But Scineaux-Richard warned that selling fresh produce in dollar stores could be a double-edged sword for the area. If those stores did well, their owners might build even more of them, she said.

Save-A-Lot opened in New Orleans East in 2012, while Walmart restarted in mid-2014 after a nine-year absence. Winn-Dixie was closed by February’s tornado, but reopened in June.

Dollar-store corporate owners are headquartered in the southeastern United States. Virginia-based Dollar Tree bought Family Dollar in 2015. Today, the company operates 17 Dollar Tree and 38 Family Dollar stores in or within ten miles of New Orleans, Randy Guiler said. Louisiana has 110 Dollar Tree stores and 317 Family Dollar stores.

“We don’t sell liquor and beer in Louisiana,” Guiler said. “We aren’t a grocery store, and most customers view us as a fill-in shopping trip. While our stores carry many healthy food options, we generally don’t carry fresh produce.” That’s because many of the company’s stores receive truck deliveries on a weekly basis. Produce is usually delivered several times a week.

Guiler said Dollar Tree plans to open 650 new stores across North America in 2017. As a store nears the end of its lease, the company decides whether to renew the lease, remodel or reallocate the store or close it.

Dollar General, headquartered in Tennessee, runs 14,000 stores, including 13 in Orleans Parish. In addition to its Dollar General Market selling fresh produce in Gentilly, it operates another market with produce on Highway 437 in Covington. “We offer fresh produce in certain other locations in the 44 states we serve,” Crystal Ghassemi, Dollar General spokeswoman, said. Dollar General sells alcoholic beverages in stores in parts of Louisiana, outside of Orleans. The company says it saves shoppers time and money on detergent, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, socks, household gadgets and other necessities.

Before Katrina, a few mom-and-pop stores operated in New Orleans East, but they were driven out by high insurance rates, Scineaux-Richard said. She said dollar stores serve a need. But in addition to their being too numerous, they aren’t well-kept. “Their landscaping isn’t maintained at all,” she said. “Today we’re unfairly considered a discount community. But we’re a community of residential subdivisions, and we’d like some higher-end stores.”

Scineaux-Richard said the future of big box stores is dim, however, because of online shopping. Rather than trying to attract higher-end retailers, the East should promote its commercial property for use by distribution centers. “We’ve got the rail, the highways and waterways that companies catering to online shoppers need,” she said.

Last week, dollar store representatives declined to comment on any corporate rules of thumb for maximum distances between their stores and distribution centers. They also wouldn’t comment on guidelines for minimum spacing between their stores within New Orleans East and in other areas.

This article originally published in the September 25, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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