WATCH: A discussion on what’s behind the spread of dollar stores with the Gulf States Newsroom

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Gulf States Newsroom managing editor Priska Neely (top right) moderates a virtual discussion between senior reporter Stephan Bisaha (top left) and guest panelists Kennedy Smith (middle left), Lauren Chenarides (middle right) and Willie Lake (bottom) on July 18, 2023.

Gulf States Newsroom managing editor Priska Neely (top right) moderates a virtual discussion between senior reporter Stephan Bisaha (top left) and guest panelists Kennedy Smith (middle left), Lauren Chenarides (middle right) and Willie Lake (bottom) on July 18, 2023. The discussion was part of a virtual listening session the Gulf States Newsroom hosted on Bisaha's four-part series on what’s behind the spread of dollar stores in the Gulf South region and the consequences across rural and urban neighborhoods.

Last year, Gulf States Newsroom senior reporter Stephan Bisaha authored an award-winning story on how a rodent infestation at a Family Dollar warehouse in Arkansas forced more than 400 stores across six Southern and Midwestern states to temporarily close.

One of the stores affected was in York, Alabama, a town of about 2,500 people near the state’s border with Mississippi, where many residents depend on it because the town has no grocery store.

The story was the catalyst for a four-part series that Bisaha reported earlier this year that explains what’s behind the dollar store spread — especially in the Gulf South — and the consequences across rural and urban neighborhoods. The series also highlights plans for further expansion that are in the works, coupled with stories of communities who are pushing back.

On July 18, Bisaha and Gulf States Newsroom managing editor Priska Neely hosted a virtual listening session for the series. They were joined by guest panelists Lauren Chenarides, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, Kennedy Smith, a senior researcher at the Institute for Self-Reliance (ILSR), and Willie Lake, the mayor of York, Alabama, for a conversation and Q&A session afterward.

Highlights from the listening session include:

  • 4:15: Gulf States Newsroom senior reporter Stephan Bisaha is introduced and discusses how the series originated
  • 7:55-28:27: The audio series is played for the audience
  • 28:49: Our three guest panelists are introduced
  • 29:53: Stephan gives an update on the responses he received after the series aired
  • 31:53: Panelist Kennedy Smith speaks on community reaction to the ILSR’s guide for fighting off dollar stores
  • 33:35: Panelist Lauren Chenarides speaks on what it will take to understand the true impact of dollar stores
  • 37:10: Panelist Wille Lake speaks on the good and bad of dollar stores in rural towns, like York
  • 40:06: The audience Q&A session begins
  • 55:49: Panelists speak on research they would like to see in the future to get a better understanding of the dollar store situation

You can watch the full listening session below.

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