Plan to ease Atlanta’s food desert restricts retail shops that sell no fruit, vegetables
By David Pendered
Atlanta is poised to join an emerging national movement to restrict dollar stores from crowding into blighted neighborhoods and not selling fresh fruits and vegetables. The first major vote is set for Thursday by the city’s Zoning Review Board.
Tulsa, OK has already grappled with the issue in neighborhoods with low-income black residents. Tulsa’s situation gained national attention through a December 2018 report by the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Reports in forbes.com, theguardian.com and biznow.com have described the trend that’s unfolding in urban and rural areas.
The business model calls for a dollar store to open a shop in a blighted neighborhood and sell sundries and groceries, and no fresh fruit or vegetables. Residents patronize the shop in order to avoid a cumbersome trek to a full-service grocery store, even though their food options are limited at the dollar store.
In some case, groceries closet to the dollar stores have closed because they couldn’t compete with the national chains, just as small retailers can’t compete with Walmart and Amazon, according to the ILSR report.
Atlanta City Councilmember Marcia Collier Overstreet has introduced a proposal that aims to help Atlanta get a handle on these types of businesses. The ZRB is slated to consider the measure during its meeting that begins at 6 p.m. at Atlanta City Hall.
Overstreet’s plan has two components:
- Establish in the city code a definition for “small discount variety store,” which is a sundries store that does not sell fresh fruit and vegetables;
- Restrict such a shop from locating within 1,500 feet from another such shop.
The intent of the legislation is explained in a paper that’s worked it way through the city’s network of Neighborhood Planning Units:
- “Cities, nonprofit groups, and universities across the United States have evaluated the effects small retail stores have on economically depressed areas. There are a significant number of these small retail stores in the City of Atlanta (“City”) that conduct small retail sales of consumer goods at a discount price, but fail to offer fresh fruits and vegetables.
- “A proliferation of these small retail stores are concentrated in economically depressed areas with scarce access to healthy and affordable food options. “Communities in the City desire a greater diversity of retail shopping choices, including but not limited to conventional grocery stores.”
The actual definition of a “small discount variety store” in Overstreet’s legislation states:
- “A retail establishment with a floor area less than 12,000 square feet\ that offers a variety of consumer products including household goods, personal care products, entertainment products, electronics, and other consumer products, including food or beverages for off-premise consumption, and that sells these consumer products at a discounted rate.
- “However, this definition of small discount variety store does not include: (1) grocery stores which offer full food choices including fresh fruit and vegetables; (2) stores which includes a pharmacy and pharmacy means any place of business of a pharmacist; (3) convenience stores which also sell gasoline as part of a service station; (4) beauty supply stores; (5) art supply stores; (6) office supply stores; (7) small retail stores typically less than 5,000 sq. ft. which are housed inside office buildings; or (8) stores permitted under Atlanta City Code Sec. 16-08.004(7)(a).“
In the paragraph above, No. 8 relates to a provision on retail shops in multi-family buildings with 50 or more residences.