Although a judge recently threw out a developer’s case against a Georgia county trying to stop a dollar store from opening in a majority Black area, the county’s commissioner says the fight to protect her community isn’t over.

Alana Sanders, Newton County District 3 commissioner, told Worldacad that residents often have to travel outside of Covington — a 47% Black city — for healthy food options and restaurants and would rather spend money in their own community.

“We get so much traffic in our area that we’re looking for quality,” Sanders said. “It’s an attractive area that people want [to] come [to], but we need to have the things that the residents who live here can benefit from.”

Newton County’s fight is among the most recent examples of communities pushing back against dollar stores. Some residents argue the stores stifle economic growth and job creation, and promote food insecurity. Over the past year, cities or counties in Georgia have been sued by developers for denying rezoning applications or permits to build Dollar General stores. In the state, there are 1,059 stores, the second-highest number in the country, according to recent data by Statista, a market and consumer data collection company.

Months after Sanders took office in 2021, residents in her district expressed concern about a potential Dollar General store opening in the area. With support from the six-member board, she halted the project from moving forward.

Residents took issue with the location, traffic congestion, low wages and eyesore the proposed 10,640-square-foot retail store would cause at the intersection of Brown Bridge Road and Kirkland Road. They feared the store, which would be within walking distance of their homes, could force nearby mom-and-pop stores out of business, leaving them without quality food options. They posed suggestions to developers SW West Covington LLC and Johnbolt Properties LLC: bring in a restaurant or quality grocery store, but not a Dollar General.

Developers didn’t budge, and the Board of Commissioners denied their request to obtain a conditional use permit — a requirement to construct a store over 5,000 square feet. As a result, they hit the county with a lawsuit in March 2022 alleging the commissioners based their decision on opinion rather than evidence.

Sanders says this is an ongoing attempt by corporations and developers to keep Black people from enjoying amenities such as restaurants or full service grocery stores that other people have. She referenced how stores such as Dollar General and Dollar Tree are disproportionately located in areas that are low-income, rural, and Black, according to research from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

In 27 metro areas, a geographer from the University of Georgia found “a significant association between proximity to dollar stores and patterns of racial segregation with chain dollar stores more heavily concentrated in neighborhoods of color. The companies’ location strategy appears to contribute to a long history of racial discrimination and economic exclusion.”

In rural areas, dollar stores can be found in mostly white small towns. However, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found the highest concentration of the stores are in the South, especially in urban and rural Black communities.

Now, Sanders is fighting back against any so-called economic development projects that don’t benefit residents.

“We just had a fight in my community against gas stations because in my community on one row, we have nine gas stations. Why do we need another gas station?” she told Worldacad. “Have some type of sympathy for the community you're putting these things in because guess what? When you’re putting quality businesses in the community, the residents are [going to] respect you more and patronize whatever you’re putting there.”

Another legal battle less than 50 miles away

While the dollar store fight seems to be over in Newton County for now, Forsyth residents in Monroe County are now facing a legal battle for denying developers the opportunity to build a 10,640-square-foot Dollar General store there.

During an April public hearing, resident Linda Hampton told the City Council she was worried the proposed store, which would be located in her neighborhood near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Kynette Street, would increase crime. Teramore Development LLC, the real estate firm that proposed the project, also attended the meeting.

“The community did not have any input on whether we wanted a Dollar General in our community. My personal opinion — we do not want it,” Hampton said at the meeting. “If you listen to the news every day, there’s a Dollar General robbed all the time. The community is bad enough, we don’t need to bring any more crime in that community.”

Frida Wright, a 70-year resident of MLK Jr. Drive, said she is too concerned about public safety. She said it’s dangerous for children to cross the street now and fears it will get worse if a new store opens.

“Why couldn’t they have asked or surveyed the community before they made a decision to put a store in front of my house? I live by myself. I gotta get more security and everything if they put a store in front of my house,” Wright said. “I can drive to the Dollar General. It takes me 5 minutes. We do not need that in our community.”

The Rev. Clarence Thrower, pastor of Kynette United Methodist Church, told the council he worries about traffic congestion, stating it’s difficult to exit the church parking lot currently from Kynette Street.

“This gentleman should be ashamed of himself, wanna come into our community with a dollar store,” Thrower said. “Who buys stuff from the dollar store? It’s cheap, amen, and it really doesn’t last long.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, the Forsyth City Council unanimously voted to deny the rezoning and variance request by Teramore Development. Now, the city is being sued by the developers for voting in favor of their residents.

Teramore Development argued that “dislike of a specific store brand is not a valid basis for denying a rezoning application,” according to the complaint filed on May 3. The firm contends that the rezoning application met all requirements and it will not negatively affect nearby properties or cause an excessive burden on streets, utilities, or schools. They are asking a judge to reverse the board’s decision.

The lawsuit is currently pending in the Monroe County Superior Court. Teramore Development and Dollar General did not respond to a request for comment.

Back in Newton County, Sanders is encouraging developers in the future to listen, instead of ignoring how communities envision their towns, and meet somewhere in the middle, so residents can experience economic prosperity. Sanders referenced a Netflix documentary where a former Mississippi senator mentioned dollar stores aren’t economic development engines because they don’t bring good-paying jobs to communities. The wages at dollar stores, typically between $6 to $10 an hour, can contribute to a continuous cycle of poverty because they are not enough for an individual to take care of their family, Sanders said. Experts told Worldacad previously that dollar stores signal to investors and businesses that the area is not worth investing in, and without investment beyond dollar stores, it won’t change.

“If you're constantly putting box stores in these particular areas, what are you saying to the residents? Are you saying they should stay in poverty and not have better living conditions?” Sanders said. “Our community wants growth and wants to have the same privileges as other communities. That means bringing in businesses that can pay a living wage as well. Why is that so wrong?”

Aallyah Wright is Worldacad's rural issues reporter. Twitter @aallyahpatrice