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Shopping in 2020: Should Blacks Celebrate Nation’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’?

Major Store Closures Hit Region as Online Purchasing Continues to Dominate

The world of shopping has drastically changed over the past decade and many marketing experts and economists predict that 2020 will bring more of the same. Consumers can anticipate the ongoing “death march” of some of their favorite retailers across the U.S. as they either reduce the number of stores, consider liquidation or close their doors for good.

However, consumers continue to grow more comfortable with and accustomed to online shopping platforms as this more modern method of shopping yields greater profits for businesses.

According to recently-released data from Coresight Research, retailers including Lord & Taylor, Gymboree, Sears, New York & Company and many others comprise a whopping total of more than 9,000 stores that have closed nationally in 2019 alone — a phenomenon often referred to as the “Retail Apocalypse.”

Not surprising, the African-American community in cities like the District find themselves disproportionately impacted by these closures, especially in parts of D.C. where retail options are already limited.

Family Dollar, a highly-patronized store within urban neighborhoods across the DMV, 90 in Maryland alone, has announced the closing of 390 stores nationwide. The decision has already begun to reverberate among consumers in the District, Virginia and Maryland.

“They have good-quality name brand items at a cheaper price and it certainly beats going into 7-Eleven,” said Ray Swann, a resident in Northeast.

As Family Dollar and its parent companies house discount goods, the chain serves as a safe financial shopping experience for local residents living on a restricted budget. To date, Family Dollar has five stores in the District (inside city limits or along the border) including H Street NE, Mt. Rainier, Rhode Island Avenue NE, Marlboro Pike and Queens Chapel. They stand in stark contrast to larger retailers such as Giant or Target — companies that rarely offer the same low sale prices as the Family Dollar chain.

The result, many fear, will be a more difficult time for consumers, families in particular, who will have to either travel further for goods or find a means to increase their budgets so that they can afford higher-priced shopping options.

“My first thought is what store are they going to open to replace Family Dollar with because it has the best prices. They’re usually cheaper than going to Safeway, Giant and most others, especially to get smaller items like paper products,” Swann said. “I find that the prices at Family Dollar are around two dollars less than going to the other stores in the area that carry most of the same items.”

The impact of the so-called “Retail Apocalypse,” along with well-documented inequities of options within various parts of the District, most notably Wards 7 and 8, bring further anxiety for African-American and Hispanic households who already find it difficult to make ends meet.

The lament heard from those communities living in “Food Deserts,” particularly in areas East of the River, has grown louder and gained even greater attention as consumers see another popular “affordable” chain, Shoppers Food, shuttering its doors in a process that began last year and will continue into the first quarter of 2020.

Shoppers Food parent company, United Natural Foods, Inc., continues to make good on its announcement last year to close four stores across Virginia and Maryland with 13 others having been sold to other grocery store chains, including almost half to German discount grocer Lidl.

In an interview with WTOP, a LIDL spokesperson shared the plans of the organization promising that they will be making “significant investments in the redevelopment of the sites and will have more to share in terms of the grand opening timeline at the end of next year.” But for now, those plans have yet to be shared with the public.

Earlier WI reports indicated that two new full grocery stores have been slated for Ward 8 with another, still unnamed, on the horizon for those living along the border of wards 7 and 8.

For the hundreds of employees previously employed by Shoppers Food and the thousands of families and individuals who have shopped at their locations with regularity, the future remains uncertain if not troublesome.

But good news does exist. Good Food Markets recently broke ground in Ward 8 (4001 South Capitol SW). Once open for business, owners say shoppers can expect seeing significantly healthier food options. The grocery store partners with local distributors, local growers and producers to provide a full service grocery experience in a significantly smaller space.

Currently, Ward 8 constituents have just one full-service grocery store available to them — a situation which has not gone ignored by D.C. Council members who represent Wards 7 and 8.

“We want to welcome new people, but we especially want to help those who have been struggling here as well,” Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) shared at the Good Food Markets groundbreaking, Thursday, January 3.

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