Town of Joseph Bans Dollar General, Other ‘Formula’ Stores

City council passes ordinance targeting chain stores and restaurants.

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In Eastern Oregon, citizens organizing against the proliferation of bargain-barrel chain stores notched a major win.

Leaders in Joseph voted to exclude Dollar General and other “formula stores” in response to public pressure, as reported by the Wallowa County Chieftain and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

In Joseph (pop. 1,252), residents flooded planning commissioners with concerns over Dollar General opening in the city, prompted by outcry over a Dollar General that opened outside the city of Wallowa. Planning commissioners told the crowd they weren’t aware of plans to build a Dollar General and they hadn’t received an application for one.

Regardless, the Joseph City Council on June 6 unanimously passed an emergency ordinance banning formula stores from operating in Joseph’s commercial zone. The rule didn’t mention Dollar General, or any store, but banned businesses that adhere to “prescribed standards and features, particularly for color schemes, signs or architectural design.” Several exceptions were allowed including banks and gas stations.

Joseph’s ordinance was based on similar laws passed in other communities. Mayor Lisa Collier told the Chieftain the council wanted to protect the city’s mom-and-pop, specialty and other locally-owned businesses. She said she received much feedback from community members in the form of calls, texts, emails and in-person comments at public meetings.

One force behind the outcry is the citizen group No Dollar General, which is supporting similar bans at other local governments in Eastern Oregon. It’s also appealing the land use permit issued to the existing Dollar General store in Wallowa County.

“The thing that Dollar General does well is that they target low-income communities and communities that are struggling,” No Dollar General co-founder Erika Polmar told OPB. “Unfortunately, they will have business because people are keen on finding a bargain.”

Based in Tennessee, Dollar General has 48,000 locations in 48 states. According to the Chieftain, officials for the store have said they have no plans to build in Joseph.

Critics of discount stores allege they hurt communities by driving out small local businesses and selling inferior products. The damage is said to be worse in small and rural communities where fewer options exist.

Citizens in Ponchatoula Parish, La., recently blocked the application for a Dollar General store for a different set of reasons. Planning commissioners invoked police powers to protect the community’s “health, safety and welfare,” because dollar stores are frequent targets of robbery and theft.

Dollar store chains considered rural Eastern Oregon an untapped market and aggressively expanded there, according to the East Oregonian. Between 2021 and 2022, Dollar General and Family Dollar opened more than a half-dozen stores in Umatilla and Morrow counties. Both chains established in Pilot Rock (pop. 1,300) and by 2023, the town’s only locally-owned grocery store announced it was closing.

But nationwide, dollar stores appear to be struggling due to inflation, theft and changing customer behavior, according to Consumer Affairs. Dollar Tree announced this year it will close 1,000 stores, and 99 Cents Only announced it will close all 371 of its locations.

Despite Wallowa County’s sparse population, other chains like Safeway and Subway have secured footholds there, OPB reports.

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