Other Voices

Want to make poor areas of Fort Worth healthier, wealthier? First, limit dollar stores

One determinate of our health, says Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, is poverty. Our health is our wealth.

Among the enablers of poverty in our community are the so-called dollar stores, especially the proliferation of them in east and southeast Fort Worth — most less than three miles apart. In some cases, they are across the street from each other. They are like stop signs on every corner!

These stores sell only processed food products that can be detrimental to our health. I serve on the board of Blue Zones, an organization that has made a powerful impact toward encouraging and developing healthy lifestyles. But dollar stores are negating progress. They contribute to food deserts — areas that lack stores selling fresh produce and other whole foods, and that lack of access is a health issue.

Grocery stores lost

Now let’s explore the wealth component. It’s a well-documented fact that dollar stores suppress community development because they make it nearly impossible for local full-service grocery stores to stay open and flourish. Developers generally avoid areas where they see an over-saturation of dollar stores.

This allows other property predators to come in and suck what dollar value is left straight out of the community. You could call it the “great sucking sound” that Ross Perot alluded to during his presidential bid years ago — thus, the vast difference between wealth in Zip Code 76104 and another only two miles away. This is commonly described as “pimping poverty.”

It creates a vicious cycle because as we continue to attract newcomers to what is now the 13th-largest city in the country, they will not relocate in these “stop-signed” communities. Employers go to other places, so jobs are farther away from areas of need.

Also it is very doubtful that many of these stores give even one-half of one percent of their profits to any community based organization. So, the next time your church, social or civic club has a fundraising event, go to your nearest dollar store and ask for a contribution. I just bet you’ll find another “stop sign.”

Now is the time to support the Rolling Hills neighborhood, Glencrest Civic League and other community organizations who are fighting against this invasion of dollar stores.

City ordinance needed

City Council members Kelly Allen Gray and Gyna Bivens, along with city staff, are reviewing options and ordinances that other cities have implemented to combat this issue.

For example, both Mesquite, Texas, and Tulsa, Okla., have passed ordinances designed to limit the growth of these stores in their communities. The Mesquite ordinance, which was passed last year, “required that any future dollar store development had to be more than 5,000 feet away from another similar store,” according to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram report. “It also required that if the proposed store planned to sell groceries, 10% of its products had to be fresh food.”

That type of policy would be a start. This health and economic crisis must be controlled. These “stop signs” must be removed.

Our health is our wealth. We are down to our last two dollars, but this is our two cents worth. We are looking for change.

Devoyd Jennings is president and CEO of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce.