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Dollar store restrictions face Chicago council vote


Chicago dollar stores may face restrictions on where new locations can open, increasing pressure to show they are trying to keep their facilities clean as the City Council considers an ordinance targeting them on Wednesday.

The so-called “small box retailer” regulation would prohibit store operators from opening new stores within one mile of pre-existing locations. New stores will be required to display banners with maintenance and emergency information.

The legislation aims to rein in businesses that sponsor Matt O’Shea says are blocking access to healthy food in poor neighborhoods and leaving city stores in disrepair.

“This is not a small business barely making ends meet,” O’Shea said at a January hearing on the ordinance. “This is a Fortune 200 company with absolutely no interest in being a good neighbor or being accountable to local government.”

The legislation appears poised to pass, several city council members said Tuesday.

It targets midsize stores that typically charge less than $5 for products. It makes a number of exceptions to narrowly focus on dollar stores, including passes for pharmacies, gas stations and specialty food stores.

The three main dollar store retailers — Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Family Dollar — have 150 locations in Chicago, according to O’Shea.

He first introduced the ordinance in early October and passed it out of committee a month before the vote was delayed in its first full appearance by the City Council. Dollar store operators said they were surprised to learn the bill would come up for a vote Wednesday; they said this progress sidestepped efforts to reach consensus.

The legislation was originally intended to prevent operators from opening new stores within two miles of pre-existing locations before the distance was shortened.

The ordinance includes exemptions that allow new dollar stores to open within one mile of each other if they plan to devote at least 10% of their sales floor space to fresh foods such as meat, seafood and produce.

But despite the shorter range, Dollar Tree argued that the one-mile radius would amount to “essentially a moratorium” on new stores and would not help solve Chicago’s food desert problem.

“In fact, as acknowledged by many government officials in our many conversations, it will do more harm than help to the communities it claims to support by limiting its flexibility to improve stores and introduce new offerings to people in those communities.” The company’s statement said:

Ald. Matthew O’Shea, 19th, during the Chicago City Council meeting at city hall on January 24, 2024. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)

Dollar Tree, which also owns Family Dollar, said it was “committed to doing our business better.” The company has promised to work more closely with the government and improve stores where there has been “historically underinvestment”.

“We understand and support his desire to make things better and remain committed to the city, our stores, our employees, and our customers in Chicago,” the company wrote.

The City Council will also vote Wednesday on an ordinance that would launch a comprehensive personnel analysis of Chicago police.

And city council members were set to consider a series of costly deals at Wednesday’s meeting, including a $3.25 million settlement for the family of a woman who was struck by a police cruiser and died three years later, allegedly in part from severe head trauma.



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