How many of you have seen at least ten 'dollar stores' in the average Black neighborhood? Wow, look at all the hands go up! How many of you have shopped at one? Whoooah, a buncha hands again! Boy, lots of dollar stores, lots of consumers, lots of revenue and sales. [Average Family Dollar store brings in 1.1 million] Next question. How much of that money contributes to the local economy, the economic stability and growth of that Black neighborhood? Yeah, I see more hands - and shoulders too - because most of you are like me. You are shrugging because, like me, you don't know. Well, I know now, and that's the subject of today's blog entry.
I thought finding a low-price general merchandise/ household goods outlet would be easy. Last year, I'd go to Walmart or a dollar store to fulfill those basic needs. Real hard to substitute Walmart's selection, but I figured I could get some of those items at a Black-owned dollar store, and I assumed there were tons of Black-owned dollar stores. I have been doing this for a month and have not been able to find one in all of metropolitan Chicago. I used all the Black business directories online - "No results found". I called around to local Chambers of Commerce - nothing. I actually spent 10 hours going through 12 different phone books and called each one individually. Many were Hispanic-owned and owned by folks of Middle-eastern descent. Many times, I actually asked for the owners' names. Then I would Google them. None. None lived in those Black communities where their stores were located. And since these businesses were family-owned and operated, that meant that most of the money generated left the Black neighborhood it did business in.
Now, here's the real sad part. When I found a dollar store situated at an address in a part of town that I was certain was 100% Black, I thought I might get lucky. But most of the time, the number was disconnected. Disconnected. So it might have been Black-owned but it had gone out of business. I heard that deafening disconnected beep at least 25 times.
So those are the results of my month-long research endeavor. Most of the big dollar store chains don't even franchise! [Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General do not. They are the big 3. MyDollar Store, Inc. does. My Dollar Store has only 100 stores though, only 50 franchises, and is privately held. It is owned by an Indian businessman.] And while we are grateful for the jobs they create, and the benefits the few salaried employees get, the dollar store phenomenon is the most blatant example of the 'leakage' you'll hear me lament about all the time.
For every $100 dollar that comes into an underserved Black community, $84 dollars leave. Our community suffers from this alarming ratio, which happens to be the most accepted indicator of economic health. That leakage is the dollar store money, and unless they proactively re-invest it, it's gone. Disconnected.
So the real money goes back to corporate, the original owners, and the bonuses that go to the corporate employees. [Dollar General made $9.5 billion in 2007. Average store brings in $1.2 million a year. They do not franchise, so all that money goes to corporate.] Secondly, they were not contributing those hundreds and hundreds of millions in profits to charities and programs that serve those communities that keep them in business. [From the Family Dollar corporate website's "Giving Back" page: "We believe our contributions should be consistent with both our commitment to our communities and our commitment to our shareholders. Consequently, our budget for charitable contributions is reallocated each fiscal year and will be reviewed quarterly against the Company’s financial performance. While we encourage organizations to submit a request based on their needs, our typical grant is $250 or less. This enables us to maximize our support of local programs in the neighborhoods in which we operate...To maximize the impact of our charitable giving within our budgetary limits, we will limit our contributions to one grant per organization per fiscal year (September - August), and we will not provide repetitive annual grants or continuing support for organizations or programs...Our contribution efforts will be focused in the neighborhoods in which we operate. Consequently, Family Dollar will limit our support of national organizations (e.g. United Way, March of Dimes, Alzheimer’s Association) to chapters within the Charlotte, NC, area and to chapters that operate in areas supported by one of our nine distribution centers."] And thirdly, none of their top executives were Black.
I am going to keep looking. I am going to keep hoping that these thriving multi-billon companies dollar re-invest more in underserved minority communities than their websites indicate. I'm going to pray that there are some Black entrepreneurs who own dollar stores that have not been run out of business because we are not supporting them.
I know there are some Black-owned web-based outlets that sell general merchandise. Gonna check them out. I'll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, if any of you know of ANY Black-owned dollar stores ANYWHERE, go back to website at http://www.ebonyexperiment.com/joinus.html and register them.
One thing is for certain. This will change. It just has to. While I am flattered that so many groups and corporate enterprises have seen and cherish the value of the Black consumer dollar, and I would never denigrate their success, since as a daughter of Cuban immigrants, I celebrate all manifestations of The American Dream... I am frustrated that all this Black buying power has rendered us utterly powerless. We need a more respectable share of the Black consumer dollar. That's all I'm saying. But for now, there is no connection between Black buying power and Black economic health. At least not in this industry. Disconnected.