Chicago dollar store crackdown: City Council vote delayed as sponsor rejects business-backed compromise

Far Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) on Monday called off a showdown vote on his proposal to tighten regulations on Chicago’s 150 dollar stores after rejecting a proposed compromise floated by three prominent business groups.

As proposed, O’Shea’s legislation would prohibit new and expanding "small box retailers" from being located "within one mile of an existing store — owned or managed by the same controlling person."

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce want to shrink from one mile to 1,000 feet the proposed bubble around dollar stores.

O’Shea summarily rejected the proposal.

"A dollar store every one-and-a-half blocks?" O’Shea said. "We’re short on grocery stores and pharmacies in neighborhoods all across the city, but we’re OK with dollar stores every block-and-a-half when they’ve proven to be bad neighbors and they’ve proven to be filthy operators and they’ve proven to be unresponsive to local government and communities begging for them to clean up their act?"

After postponing consideration of the proposed dollar store crackdown, O’Shea filed notice of his intention to seek a vote at this week’s Council meeting. But that was before he realized the meeting Wednesday would be dominated by emotional debate about a resolution demanding a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

"Wednesday is going to be a very heated and emotional meeting. I don’t feel it’s the right time to bring this very serious issue back up to the Council. My colleagues need to be focused on the issue at hand," O’Shea said.

In touting their 1,000-foot compromise, the three business groups argued O’Shea’s version would "limit access to important goods for residents and hamper economic development" in South Side and West Side neighborhoods that "need it most."

They also argued that the one-mile bubble "violates every free-market tenant and denies aldermen the ability to respond to the changing needs" of their individual wards.

"If you map out the city at a mile around existing stores, there would be almost no place to open," Rob Karr, president of the retail merchants group, told the Sun-Times.

"Food deserts predate dollar stores and they came into neighborhoods where there was nothing," Karr said. "For those neighborhoods that cannot attract a grocery store, these stores at least fill some basic needs. They are, in fact, meeting the needs of customers."