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Will a Dollar General Ruin a Rural Crossroads?



Will a Dollar General Ruin a Rural Crossroads?

Anne Hartley’s brick house in Ebony, Va., overlooks windswept fields, a Methodist church, a general store and the intersection of two country roads, a pastoral setting that evokes an Edward Hopper painting or a faded postcard from the South.

Now this scene is being threatened, Ms. Hartley said, by a plan to build what every small American town seems to have: a Dollar General.

A descendant of one of Ebony’s founding families, Ms. Hartley says the discount store — which would be built next to her home — will create traffic problems in the area, with people drawn to the brand’s signature yellow sign and its aisles filled with inexpensive food and household staples.

Beyond the store itself, Ms. Hartley and many others with ties to Ebony think it will open the door to additional development that will spoil the character of their tiny, rural community of about 230 people. The name of their website and the rallying cry for their campaign against the Dollar General is “Keep Ebony Country.”

“We don’t want over-commercialization to destroy the integrity of the community,” Ms. Hartley said.


Jerry Jones also has strong feelings about Dollar General. He, too, grew up in Ebony and, for several years, was Ms. Hartley’s classmate at the local public school. He went on to manage grocery stores around southern Virginia and later owned a gas station in Ebony that sold freshly baked biscuits and deep-fried baloney burgers.

Mostly retired now, Mr. Jones owns the land where the Dollar General would be built. He said the store would provide the county’s residents a convenient and affordable place to shop, while also generating sorely needed tax revenue.

“You still need to have that balance between the people with nicer things and the people who live paycheck to paycheck,” Mr. Jones said. “To me, Dollar General fits right in with that.”

The dispute in Ebony, which has been going on for more than three years, is about planning and zoning, but it also touches on a deeper issue simmering in many parts of rural America, whether the disputes are about cellphone towers or snowmobile trails. What does “country” mean to different people in a small community?

In most places, Dollar General is winning. Across the United States, the company has made an aggressive push to permeate thousands of far-flung or impoverished communities with stores that, along with low prices, are criticized for their unhealthy food offerings and low-paid employees.


An increasing number of these proposed dollar stores are leading to disputes, generating opponents in small towns and struggling cities. The retailer has been assailed by a think tank for the negative effects it has on small businesses and by the Biden administration for the unkempt condition of its stores.

Yet, a vast majority of the proposed dollar stores are being built. One in three stores that opened in the United States in 2022 was a dollar store.

Those who oppose the proposed Dollar General in Ebony are trying to buck the trend.

About 90 miles south of Richmond, Ebony sits on the edge of Lake Gaston and is a haven for second homes that serve as an important tax base. Ebony is part of Brunswick County, once a hub for tobacco farming, where the median household income is about $49,600, far below the statewide median of $80,600. More than half the county’s population is Black.

The five-member Brunswick County Board of Supervisors approved a zoning change that would allow the store to be built in a 3-to-2 vote.


The supervisors who voted to approve the store declined to comment, citing a lawsuit that Ms. Hartley and other opponents filed challenging their decision.

In a statement, Dollar General said that it offered fresh produces in thousands of stores and provided a “safe work environment” and “competitive wages.”

“We regularly hear from communities, particularly in rural areas, asking us to bring a Dollar General to their hometown,” the company added. “We understand a Dollar General would be welcomed by many Ebony residents and hope to be able to serve that community.”

Many of the opponents of the store are driven by their appreciation for Ebony’s past and what they hope can be preserved. And some relative newcomers to the community are sympathetic to their argument. Mohamed Abouemara moved to southern Virginia from New York to operate convenience stores and has run the Ebony General Store for nine years.

He said his store, where locals can socialize and buy hot food, played an important role in a rural community.


A dollar store, he said, would significantly hurt his business. “Jerry is a friend of mine,” Mr. Abouemara said of Mr. Jones. “I am not angry at him. But if he still owned his store, he would not let a Dollar General come here.”

Ms. Hartley is a meticulous keeper of family and Ebony history. Her family has owned land in the area for generations, and her great-grandfather named the community in the late 1800s after a black horse called Ebony.

The family also ran a local store. When Ms. Hartley was growing up in Ebony in the 1960s, her father operated a business, which had a butcher shop, a barbershop and a mill in the back. Ms. Hartley helped her parents in the store when she was still a child, and she remembers her father working long hours, from early in the morning until late in the evening. “It was the center of our family life,” she said of small-town retailing.

Ms. Hartley attended the University of North Carolina, where she majored in math and later worked as a computer programmer, a rare position for a woman in the 1970s and ’80s and a point of pride for her.

She now owns her family’s house in Ebony, where family photos, spanning many generations, cover the walls and side tables.


Ms. Hartley’s primary residence is in Chapel Hill, N.C., about 90 miles south, but she regularly visits the house in Ebony.

Ms. Hartley says she is intent on protecting a rural intersection from a box store for the good of a community and local economy, which is seeking to boost tourism

Her lawsuit argues that the county has violated its own comprehensive plan that calls out the importance of the area’s scenic landscapes. The county has said in court papers that the plan is merely meant as a guide for development.

Dozens of local residents and people with roots in Ebony have mobilized against the development as part of the Ebony Preservation Group. They have raised donations to support their legal fight and lobbied the state to have the community considered to be part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Elizabeth Nash Horne, whose parents and grandparents are buried in a cemetery next to the proposed store, said a chain retailer in Ebony was “just unnecessary.” There are already three existing dollar stores only a few miles from Ebony.


Some say they recognize that the county needs tax revenue. “But are we going to sell our soul for anything that comes along?” said Bobby Conner, who grew up in Ebony and now works on tourism initiatives for Brunswick County.

The main route into Ebony from the interstate is Route 903, a two-lane road lined by billboards advertising real estate that eventually opens up into farm fields and pine groves.

Route 903 comes to an intersection in Ebony where there is a gas station on one side of the road and, on the other, the Ebony General Store, a dimly lit warren of canned vegetables and soda bottles where the smell of fried catfish mingles with that of steaming hot dogs.

Sid Cutts, a home builder who has developed properties on Lake Gaston, said Ebony and other historic-looking crossroads were becoming increasingly rare in the South.

“I use the term rural elegance,” Mr. Cutts said in describing Ebony.


Mr. Cutts said his clients from larger cities who were building lake houses were important to the community because they spent money at the local businesses. But they are seeking the down-home charm they can find at the long-running Ebony General Store, he said, not another Dollar General.

Mr. Jones says he, too, has Ebony’s best interest at heart in seeking to bring a Dollar General to the community.

Mr. Jones’s father and grandfather bought land in Ebony in the 1950s and many members of his family still live in Ebony. Several of them are neighbors of Ms. Hartley.

Mr. Jones did not go to college, but he worked his way up through A.&P., managing several stores in Virginia.

In the 1990s, Mr. Jones built a gas station and convenience store across from the Ebony General Store.


He sold his store in 2005 and now lives in a nearby town, though he regularly farms land in Ebony. Mr. Jones said he didn’t understand how putting a third business in a well-trafficked intersection would destroy Ebony’s rural character.

“What character do they really want to save?” he said. “I am still going to be out there on my tractor. None of that is going to change one iota. I just won’t have to drive as far to get a cold drink or a Pop-Tart.”

Mr. Jones’s aunt Betty Lett lives across the street from where the store would be built. She thinks a dollar store would bring new excitement to Ebony.

“I am pure country,” Ms. Lett said one afternoon while sitting across from Mr. Jones in her living room. An antique doll perched on a swing hung from the ceiling.

Mr. Jones shrugged off the criticisms of dollar stores — that their aisles and dumpsters outside are a mess and that their employees underpaid. He pointed out that the hourly minimum wage in Virginia is $12.


“I never even made it to $10 an hour,” said Ms. Lett, who retired in 2007, after four decades of factory and distribution center work. “I should go back to work,” she joked.

Shaunton Taylor, who stopped to fill up on gas at the Ebony General Store one afternoon, said she would still shop there even if a dollar store came along.

Ms. Taylor lives in a home on a family homestead, three miles from the site of the proposed Dollar General. The homestead was first inhabited by her great-grandparents, who were farmers.

“I am open-minded about new things, especially in a rural area,” said Ms Taylor, who works at a nursing home and also writes poetry. “You have to accept anything new.”

This year, Ms. Hartley asked for the Virginia Supreme Court to hear the case, arguing that the issue of how a county interprets its comprehensive plan would “affect all Virginians for years to come.” She is confident that her group will eventually prevail.


In the meantime, Ms. Hartley reached out to Mr. Jones with an offer: She told him that a supporter of her group would match whatever the developer of the Dollar General store would pay Mr. Jones for the property — about $88,000, Mr. Jones said.

But Mr. Jones declined. His idea and the preservation group’s idea for what should happen with the land, he said, “just don’t match.”

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'Bridgerton', 'Baby Reindeer' help boost Netflix earnings



'Bridgerton', 'Baby Reindeer' help boost Netflix earnings

Netflix on Thursday touted its strong business growth in the second quarter, as its subscriber count grew by 8.05 million to about 278 million in the period.

Revenue was up 17% to nearly $9.6 billion in the quarter, the Los Gatos, Calif., streamer reported. Net income was $2.1 billion, compared with $1.49 billion in the same period of 2023.

The company beat Wall Street’s estimates on revenue, earnings and subscriber additions. Analysts on average had projected that Netflix would increase its customer base by around 4.5 million subscribers, according to FactSet.

Netflix reported earnings of $4.88 a share, topping analyst expectations of $4.74. Analysts had projected revenue of $9.53 billion, according to FactSet.

Netflix has impressed investors as the company cracks down on password sharing, grows its lower-priced ad-supported subscription tier and puts out a steady stream of popular original programs.


The steamer’s stock price has increased roughly 35% so far this year. Its shares closed at $643.04 Thursday, down 0.68%. The shares fell about 2% in after-hours trading.

“If we execute well — better stories, easier discovery and more fandom — while also establishing ourselves in newer areas like live, games and advertising, we believe that we have a lot more room to grow,” Netflix said in a letter to shareholders on Thursday.

Netflix has remained the dominant subscription streaming platform in part because of its content prowess with licensed titles and its own franchises, including the Shonda Rhimes Regency-era alt-history romance series “Bridgerton.” In the second quarter, Netflix released popular programs including the third season of “Bridgerton”; limited drama series “Baby Reindeer,” which received 11 Emmy nominations on Wednesday; the Jennifer Lopez action movie “Atlas”; and “The Roast of Tom Brady,” which the streamer said attracted its largest live audience so far.

The company forecast revenue growth of 14% to 15% this year. The number of signups for subscriptions with ads grew 34% in the second quarter compared to the previous quarter.

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An Algorithm Told Police She Was Safe. Then Her Husband Killed Her.



An Algorithm Told Police She Was Safe. Then Her Husband Killed Her.

In a small apartment outside Madrid on Jan. 11, 2022, an argument over household chores turned violent when Lobna Hemid’s husband smashed a wooden shoe rack and used one of the broken pieces to beat her. Her screams were heard by neighbors. Their four children, ages 6 to 12, were also home.

Ms. Hemid’s husband of more than a decade, Bouthaer el Banaisati, regularly punched and kicked her, she later told the police. He also called her a “whore,” “disgusting” and “worthless,” according to the police report.

Before Ms. Hemid left the station that night, the police had to determine if she was in danger of being attacked again and needed support. A police officer clicked through 35 yes or no questions — Was a weapon used? Were there economic problems? Has the aggressor shown controlling behaviors?to feed into an algorithm called VioGén that would help generate an answer.

VioGén produced a score:

low risk Lobna Hemid


2022 Madrid

The police accepted the software’s judgment and Ms. Hemid went home with no further protection. Mr. el Banaisati, who was imprisoned that night, was released the next day. Seven weeks later, he fatally stabbed Ms. Hemid several times in the chest and abdomen before killing himself. She was 32 years old.

A photo of Lobna Hemid on the phone of a friend. She was killed by her husband in 2022.

Ana Maria Arevalo Gosen for The New York Times


Spain has become dependent on an algorithm to combat gender violence, with the software so woven into law enforcement that it is hard to know where its recommendations end and human decision-making begins. At its best, the system has helped police protect vulnerable women and, overall, has reduced the number of repeat attacks in domestic violence cases. But the reliance on VioGén has also resulted in victims, whose risk levels are miscalculated, getting attacked again — sometimes leading to fatal consequences.

Spain now has 92,000 active cases of gender violence victims who were evaluated by VioGén, with most of them — 83 percent — classified as facing little risk of being hurt by their abuser again. Yet roughly 8 percent of women who the algorithm found to be at negligible risk and 14 percent at low risk have reported being harmed again, according to Spain’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the system.

At least 247 women have also been killed by their current or former partner since 2007 after being assessed by VioGén, according to government figures. While that is a tiny fraction of gender violence cases, it points to the algorithm’s flaws. The New York Times found that in a judicial review of 98 of those homicides, 55 of the slain women were scored by VioGén as negligible or low risk for repeat abuse.

How the Risk Levels of 98 Women Were Classified








Source: Spanish General Council of the Judiciary Note: Data from 2010 to 2022. Data from 2016 to 2018 is unavailable. By Alice Fang

Spanish police are trained to overrule VioGén’s recommendations depending on the evidence, but accept the risk scores about 95 percent of the time, officials said. Judges can also use the results when considering requests for restraining orders and other protective measures.

“Women are falling through the cracks,” said Susana Pavlou, director of the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies, who coauthored a European Union report about VioGén and other police efforts to fight violence against women. The algorithm “kind of absolves the police of any responsibility of assessing the situation and what the victim may need.”

Spain exemplifies how governments are turning to algorithms to make societal decisions, a global trend that is expected to grow with the rise of artificial intelligence. In the United States, algorithms help determine prison sentences, set police patrols and identify children at risk of abuse. In the Netherlands and Britain, authorities have experimented with algorithms to predict who may become criminals and to identify people who may be committing welfare fraud.

Few of the programs have such life or death consequences as VioGén. But victims interviewed by The Times rarely knew about the role the algorithm played in their cases. The government also has not released comprehensive data about the system’s effectiveness and has refused to make the algorithm available for outside audit.


VioGén was created to be an unbiased tool to aid police with limited resources identify and protect women most at risk of being assaulted again. The technology was meant to create efficiencies by helping police prioritize the most urgent cases, while focusing less on those calculated by the algorithm as lower risk. Victims classified as higher risk get more protection, including regular patrols by their home, access to a shelter and police monitoring of their abuser’s movements. Those with lower scores get less support.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry defended VioGén and said the government was the “first to carry out self-criticism” when mistakes occur. It said homicide was so rare that it was difficult to accurately predict, but added it was an “incontestable fact” that VioGén has helped reduce violence against women.

Since 2007, about 0.03 percent of Spain’s 814,000 reported victims of gender violence have been killed after being assessed by VioGén, the ministry said. During that time, repeat attacks have fallen to roughly 15 percent of all gender violence cases from 40 percent, according to government figures.

“If it weren’t for this, we would have more homicides and gender-based violence,” said Juan José López Ossorio, a psychologist who helped create VioGén and works for the Interior Ministry.

Juan José López Ossorio, a government official who helped create the VioGén system.


Ana Maria Arevalo Gosen for The New York Times

Yet victims and their families are grappling with the consequences when VioGén gets it wrong.

“Technology is fine, but sometimes it’s not and then it’s fatal,” said Jesús Melguizo, Ms. Hemid’s brother-in-law, who is a guardian for two of her children. “The computer has no heart.”

‘Effective but not perfect’


VioGén started with a question: Can police predict an assault before it happens?

After Spain passed a law in 2004 to address violence against women, the government assembled experts in statistics, psychology and other fields to find an answer. Their goal was to create a statistical model to identify women most at risk of abuse and to outline a standardized response to protect them.

Some initial designs and research strategies for what became VioGén, including a decision tree and calibration techniques for predicting intimate partner homicides.

Ana Maria Arevalo Gosen for The New York Times


“It would be a new guide for risk assessment in gender violence,” said Antonio Pueyo, a psychology professor at the University of Barcelona who later joined the effort.

The team took a similar approach to how insurance companies and banks predict the likelihood of future events, such as house fires or currency swings. They studied national crime statistics, police records and the work of researchers in Britain and Canada to find indicators that appeared to correlate with gender violence. Substance abuse, job loss and economic uncertainty were high on the list.

Then they came up with a questionnaire for victims so their answers could be compared with historical data. Police would fill in the answers after interviewing a victim, reviewing documentary evidence, speaking with witnesses and studying other information from government agencies. Answers to certain questions carried more weight than others, like if an abuser displayed suicidal tendencies or showed signs of jealousy.

These are some of the questions answered by women

6. In the last six months, has there been an escalation of aggression or threats?



26. Has the aggressor demonstrated addictive behaviors or substance abuse?


34. In the last six months, has the victim expressed to the aggressor her intention to sever their relationship?



The system produced a score for each victim: negligible risk, low risk, medium risk, high risk or extreme risk. A higher score would result in police patrols and the tracking of an aggressor’s movements. In extreme cases, police would assign 24-hour surveillance. Those with lower scores would receive fewer resources, mainly follow-up calls.

Predictive algorithms to address domestic violence have been used in parts of Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States, but not on such a national scale. In Spain, the Interior Ministry introduced VioGén everywhere but in the Catalonia region and Basque Country.

Law enforcement initially greeted the algorithm with skepticism, police and government officials told The Times, but it soon became a part of everyday police business.


Before VioGén, investigations were “based on the experience of the policeman,” said Mr. Pueyo, who remains affiliated with the program. “Now this is organized and guided by VioGén.”

VioGén is a source of impartial information, he said. If a woman attacked late at night was seen by a young police officer with little experience, VioGén could help detect the risk of future violence.

“It’s more efficient,” Mr. Pueyo said.

Over the years, VioGén has been refined and updated, including with metrics that are believed to better predict homicide. Police have also been required to conduct a follow-up risk assessment within 90 days of an attack.

But Spain’s faith in the system has surprised some experts. Juanjo Medina, a senior researcher at the University of Seville who has studied VioGén, said the system’s effectiveness remains unclear.


“We’re not good at forecasting the weather, let alone human behavior,” he said.

Francisco Javier Curto, a commander for the military police in Seville, said VioGén helps his teams prioritize, but requires close oversight. About 20 new cases of gender violence arrive every day, each requiring investigation. Providing police protection for every victim would be impossible given staff sizes and budgets.

“The system is effective but not perfect,” he said, adding that VioGén is “the best system that exists in the world right now.”

Francisco Javier Curto, a commander for the military police in Seville who oversees gender violence incidents in the province. VioGén is “the best system that exists in the world right now,” he said.

Ana Maria Arevalo Gosen for The New York Times


José Iniesta, a civil guard in Alicante, a southeastern port city, said not enough of the police are trained to keep up with growing case loads. A leader in the United Association of Civil Guards, a union representing officers in rural areas, he said that outside of big cities, the police often must choose between addressing violence against women or other crimes.

Sindicato Unificado de Policía, a union that represents national police officers, said even the most effective technology cannot make up for a lack of trained experts. In some places, a police officer is assigned to work with more than 100 victims.

“Agents in many provinces are overwhelmed,” the union said in a statement.

When attacks happen again


The women who have been killed after being assessed by VioGén can be found across Spain.

One was Stefany González Escarraman, a 26-year-old living near Seville. In 2016, she went to the police after her husband punched her in the face and choked her. He threw objects at her, including a kitchen ladle that hit their 3-year-old child. After police interviewed Ms. Escarraman for about five hours, VioGén determined she had a negligible risk of being abused again.

negligible risk Stefany González Escarraman

2016 Seville


The next day, Ms. Escarraman, who had a swollen black eye, went to court for a restraining order against her husband. Judges can serve as a check on the VioGén system, with the ability to intervene in cases and provide protective measures. In Ms. Escarraman’s case, the judge denied a restraining order, citing VioGén’s risk score and her husband’s lack of criminal history.

Stefany González Escarraman, who was killed in 2016 by her husband. VioGén had scored her as negligible risk.

About a month later, Ms. Escarraman was stabbed by her husband multiple times in the heart in front of their children. In 2020, her family won a verdict against the state for failing to adequately measure the level of risk and provide sufficient protection.

“If she had been given the help, maybe she would be alive,” said Williams Escarraman, Ms. Escarraman’s brother.


In 2021, Eva Jaular, who lived in Liaño in northern Spain, was slain by her former boyfriend after being classified as low risk by VioGén. He also killed their 11-month-old daughter. Six weeks earlier, he had jabbed a knife into a couch cushion next to where Ms. Jaular sat and said, “look how well it sticks,” according to a police report.

low risk Eva Jaular

2021 Liaño

Since 2007, 247 of the 990 women killed in Spain by a current or former partner were previously scored by VioGén, according to the Interior Ministry. The other victims had not been previously reported to the police, so were not in the system. The ministry declined to disclose the VioGén risk scores of the 247 who were killed.


The Times instead analyzed reports from a Spanish judicial agency, released almost every year from 2010 to 2022, which included information about the risk scores of 98 women who were later killed. Of those, 55 had been classified as negligible risk or low risk.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry said that analyzing the risk scores of homicide victims doesn’t provide an accurate picture of VioGén’s effectiveness because some homicides happened more than a year after the first assessment, while others were committed by a different partner.

Why the algorithm incorrectly classifies some women varies and isn’t always clear, but one reason may be the poor quality of information fed into the system. VioGén is ideally suited for cases when a woman, in the moments after being attacked, can provide complete information to an experienced police officer who has time to fully investigate the incident.

That does not always happen. Fear, shame, economic dependency, immigration status and other factors can lead a victim to withhold information. Police are also often squeezed for time and may not fully investigate.

Elisabeth, a lawyer, is a survivor of gender violence who now advocates for other victims who face institutional mistreatment in Spain.


Ana María Arévalo Gosen for The New York Times

“If we already enter erroneous information into the system, how can we expect the system to give us a good result?” said Elisabeth, a victim who now works as a gender violence lawyer. She spoke on the condition her full name not be used, for fear of retaliation by her former partner.

Luz, a woman from a village in southern Spain, said she was repeatedly labeled low risk after attacks by her partner because she was afraid and ashamed to provide complete information to the police, some of whom she knew personally. She got her risk score increased to extreme only after working with a lawyer specializing in gender violence cases, leading to round-the-clock police protection.

extreme risk Luz


2019 Southern Spain

“We women keep a lot of things silent not because we want to lie but out of fear,” said Luz, who spoke on the condition her full name not be used for fear of retaliation by her attacker, who was imprisoned. “VioGén would be good if there were qualified people who had all the necessary tools to carry it out.”

Luz, with her son, said she was labeled lower risk because she was afraid and ashamed to provide complete information about her partner’s abuse to police.

Ana María Arévalo Gosen for The New York Times


Victim groups said that psychologists or other trained specialists should lead the questioning of victims rather than the police. Some have urged the government to mandate that victims be allowed to be accompanied by somebody they trust to help ensure full information is given to authorities, something that is now not allowed in all areas.

“It’s not easy to report a person you’ve loved,” said María, a victim from Granada in southern Spain, who was labeled medium risk after her partner attacked her with a dumbbell. She asked that her full name not be published for fear of retaliation by him.

medium risk María

2023 Granada


Ujué Agudo, a Spanish researcher studying the influence of artificial intelligence on human decisions, said technology has a role in solving societal problems. But it could reduce the responsibility of humans to approving the work of a machine, rather than conducting the necessary work themselves.

“If the system succeeds, it’s a success of the system. If the system fails, it’s a human error that they aren’t monitoring properly,” said Ms. Agudo, a co-director of Bikolabs, a Spanish civil society group. A better approach, she said, was for people “to say what their decision is before seeing what the A.I. thinks.”

Spanish officials are exploring incorporating A.I. into VioGén so it can pull data from different sources and learn more on its own. Mr. Ossorio, a creator of VioGén who works for the Interior Ministry, said the tools can be applied to other areas, including workplace harassment and hate crimes.

The systems will never be perfect, he said, but neither is human judgment. “Whatever we do, we always fail,” he said. “It’s unsolvable problems.”


This month, the Spanish government called an emergency meeting after three women were killed by former partners within a 24-hour span. One victim, a 30-year-old from central Spain, had been classified by VioGén as low risk.

At a news conference, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, the interior minister, said he still had “absolute confidence” in the system.

‘Always cheerful’

A memorial of roses and eucalyptus adorns a lamppost at the entrance to the street where Ms. Hemid lived.

Ana Maria Arevalo Gosen for The New York Times


Ms. Hemid, who was killed outside Madrid in 2022, was born in rural Morocco. She was 14 when she was introduced at a family wedding to Mr. el Banaisati, who was 10 years older than her. She was 17 when they married. They later moved to Spain so he could pursue steadier work.

Ms. Hemid was outgoing and gregarious, often seen racing to get her children to school on time, friends said. She learned to speak Spanish and sometimes joined children playing soccer in the park.

“She was always cheerful,” said Amelia Franas, a friend whose children went to the same school as Ms. Hemid’s children.

Few knew that abuse was a fixture of Ms. Hemid’s marriage. She spoke little about her home life, friends said, and never called the police or reported Mr. el Banaisati before the January 2022 incident.


VioGén is intended to identify danger signs that humans may overlook, but in Ms. Hemid’s case, it appears that police missed some clues. Her neighbors told The Times they were not interviewed, nor were administrators at her children’s school, who said they had seen signs of trouble.

Family members said Mr. el Banaisati had a life-threatening form of cancer that made him behave erratically. Many blamed underlying discrimination in Spain’s criminal system that overlooks violence against immigrant women, especially Muslims.

Police haven’t released a copy of the assessment that produced Ms. Hemid’s low risk score from VioGén. A copy of a separate police report shared with The Times noted that Ms. Hemid was tired during questioning and wanted to end the interview to get home.

A few days after the January 2022 attack, Ms. Hemid won a restraining order against her husband. But Mr. el Banaisati largely ignored the order, family and friends said. He moved into an apartment less than 500 meters from where Ms. Hemid lived and continued threatening her.

Mr. Melguizo, her brother-in-law, said he appealed to Ms. Hemid’s assigned public lawyer for help, but was told the police “won’t do anything, it has a low risk score.”


The day after Ms. Hemid was stabbed to death, she had a court date scheduled to officially file for divorce.

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For companies in the Ozempic-fueled weight-loss economy, it's survival of the fittest



For companies in the Ozempic-fueled weight-loss economy, it's survival of the fittest

Before he began taking Mounjaro last summer, Nick Lovell was the weight-loss economy’s ideal customer.

He signed up for WeightWatchers and bought “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” to try the low-carb regimen. He joined his first gym in middle school and has belonged to half a dozen others since. He paid for personal trainers and boutique fitness classes and underwent bariatric surgery in 2008. And yet, his 5-foot-9-inch frame stubbornly held onto its 258 pounds.

All told, Lovell, a photographer from Norwalk, Conn., spent tens of thousands of dollars over the decades on “things that ultimately failed.”

Weekly injections of Mounjaro, a prescription diabetes medication that spurs weight loss, changed everything. Down 80 pounds in 13 months, Lovell has canceled his diet program memberships and no longer belongs to a gym, preferring to exercise on his own at home. He goes out to eat less often. His cravings for ultra-processed foods such as cereal and Velveeta have subsided, and now he buys more fruits and vegetables and high-protein options such as chicken thighs, eggs and cottage cheese instead.

Lovell’s experience with the medication is one of countless success stories to emerge amid a monumental shift in the way people lose weight — and, consequently, how they live and spend.


So far, the powerful new anti-diabetes and anti-obesity drugs — a fast-growing family that also includes Ozempic, Wegovy, Saxenda, Zepbound and dozens more in the works — have been expensive and difficult to obtain because of widespread shortages. But as availability increases and costs come down, GLP-1 medications threaten to upend the long-standing natural order for industries across the board.

Executives and investors are nervously wondering whether droves of slimmed-down users will soon ditch their dieticians, skip the gym, order less at restaurants, and throw out their favorite snack brands. Many companies, acknowledging that the blockbuster class of drugs are a medical breakthrough and not just a fad, are swiftly repositioning themselves with new products and services in a bid to persuade customers that they still have plenty to offer in the booming age of Ozempic.

An Ozempic injection pen. The market for GLP-1 drugs is expected to exceed $100 billion by 2030.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

“We had to up our game,” said Dr. Gary Foster, chief scientific officer at WeightWatchers. “A lot of people said, ‘Was it an existential crisis for you?’ Absolutely not. When science evolves, we evolve. What we have to do as a brand is think about how we incorporate that.”


The changes to consumer behavior have already had far-reaching ramifications. Apparel retailers say they’ve noticed customers buying smaller sizes. Plastic surgeons are reporting a rise in facelifts and other procedures to correct so-called Ozempic face, the sagging skin that often accompanies rapid weight loss. In February, Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, the chief executive of Ozempic maker Novo Nordisk, said food company leaders had called him because they were “scared.”

“The question is, how widespread is Ozempic going to become?” said Simeon Siegel, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “As it grows, so too will its impact.”

With studies predicting that the market for GLP-1 drugs — which help manage blood sugar levels, slow digestion and reduce appetite — will exceed $100 billion by 2030, businesses aren’t waiting around.

In November, WeightWatchers began offering the prescription medications through its WeightWatchers Clinic, which charges $99 per month for access (the cost of the drugs is separate). Foster said tens of thousands of people have since been prescribed GLP-1s directly from the company’s doctors.

It also introduced the WeightWatchers GLP-1 program, designed for members taking the drugs regardless of where they got them. The program aims to help users develop healthy lifestyle habits by teaching them about nutrition, meal timing, proper protein and hydration intake and the importance of a consistent exercise routine.

Logo of WeightWatchers on a mobile phone, and the company's website, in New York, Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

WeightWatchers began offering GLP-1 medications through its in-house clinic in November. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been prescribed the drugs directly from the company’s doctors.

(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

“These medications are not total fixes,” Foster said. “It’s a misnomer to say, ‘Oh, it’s the easy way out.’ When you do need biological treatments, you also need behavior treatments to be successful.”

The pitch is that health is a long-term commitment that is about more than just a smaller number on the scale. On its GLP-1 program page online, WeightWatchers says it is “your companion on your medical weight-loss journey.”

We had to up our game. A lot of people said, ‘Was it an existential crisis for you?’ Absolutely not. When science evolves, we evolve. What we have to do as a brand is think about how we incorporate that.

— Dr. Gary Foster, chief scientific officer at WeightWatchers


Atkins, a WeightWatchers rival, also wants a bite of the lucrative market and has adopted similar language: We’re “your ally in a new era of weight loss,” the low-carb diet program says on a dedicated GLP-1 page on its website.

“The new weight-loss medications have changed EVERYTHING. We’re actually thrilled at what lies ahead.”

With many GLP-1 users reporting muscle loss as a side effect, Atkins is pushing its line of high-protein bars and shakes, “a deliciously easy way to meet your protein requirements to help you maintain lean muscle mass and bone health while you’re losing weight.”


Two months ago, Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, introduced Vital Pursuit, a line of frozen foods that the company said is “intended to be a companion for GLP-1 weight-loss medication users and consumers focused on weight management.” The Swiss-based giant cited research from J.P. Morgan that predicted that GLP-1 users in the U.S. could reach 30 million by 2030 — or around 9% of the country’s population.

Nestle's new Vital Pursuit line of frozen foods.
Nestlé has introduced Vital Pursuit, a line of frozen foods “intended to be a companion for GLP-1 weight-loss medication users and consumers focused on weight management.”


“As the use of medications to support weight loss continues to rise, we see an opportunity to serve those consumers,” Steve Presley, chief executive of Nestlé North America, said in a statement. By tapping into the emerging category with its new high-protein pasta bowls and sandwich melts, the food giant is trying to “stay ahead of the trends.”

Abbott, the company behind Ensure and Pedialyte, in January introduced Protality, a line of chocolate and vanilla shakes with 30 grams of protein that “provides nutritional support for adults pursuing weight loss.”

“We’re serving a new group of people who may be at a higher nutritional risk because they may be overweight or have obesity and use weight-loss medications,’’ Hakim Bouzamondo, Abbott’s division vice president of nutrition research and development, said in a statement. The shakes are now sold at stores including CVS and Walmart.


I’m pretty cynical about companies getting into this space now. It seems opportunistic. This is a huge phenomenon, there’s obviously money to be made in it.

— Nick Lovell, a Mounjaro user

Gyms, too, are pivoting to retain clients who are now taking the drugs — and to attract people who might have felt too self-conscious to sign up for a membership before.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, “I think [Ozempic] brings new people in,” said Siegel, the analyst who tracks big-box fitness chains.

Equinox's GLP-1 Program is available nationwide with master instructors.

Equinox’s personal trainers have gone through a new GLP-1 Program to help tailor their sessions with clients who are on weight-loss medications.


“When an ‘unfit’ person becomes a fit person,” he said, “more often than not those are the people that become the workout fanatics.”

Luxury health club chain Life Time is trying a multi-pronged approach to appeal to GLP-1 users.

In November the company launched Miora, a wellness clinic located inside one of its athletic clubs in Minneapolis. The clinic offers GLP-1 drugs as well as a host of longevity and performance amenities such as IV therapy and creates personalized programs for members based on their bloodwork and other tests.


Currently in pilot mode, Miora will roll out to Life Time’s other major markets in the coming months, including Southern California.

Miora clinic

Life Time, a chain of luxury health clubs, has launched Miora, a wellness clinic that offers GLP-1 drugs as well as longevity and performance amenities. The clinic is in pilot mode in Minneapolis and is expected to roll out to other club locations in the coming months.

(Life Time)

In the meantime, the company has created a GLP-1 personal training program for its team of 3,500 fitness trainers, meant to help them understand the specific challenges faced by weight-loss-drug users and tailor their sessions accordingly. That could mean incorporating more strength and resistance training to combat muscle loss or helping prevent weight gain when a member stops taking the drugs or lowers the dosage.

“If we were just to get a fraction [of our potential member base] to engage in the way that we do things differently with GLP-1s — it’s an insane opportunity for the company,” said Cliff Edberg, senior director of Miora.


Personal trainers at Equinox and at Gold’s Gym SoCal locations have received similar GLP-1-focused instruction.

The question is, how widespread is Ozempic going to become? As it grows, so too will its impact.

— Simeon Siegel, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets

“We’re ready and waiting to assist clients using GLP-1 drugs,” said Mike Mitchell, vice president of fitness for Gold’s Gym SoCal.


To monitor the effect of the medications on lean body mass — the difference between a person’s total weight and body fat weight — the franchise group is recommending that members get regular comprehensive body composition scans at one of its 23 locations.

“Supporting individuals who are taking GLP-1 medications requires a nuanced approach,” Mitchell said. “Our role involves providing empathetic and personalized behavior-change coaching.”

Physical trainer Patricia Rubio, left, and Mike Mitchell, vice president of fitness for Gold's Gym SoCal.

Personal trainer Patricia Rubio, left, and Mike Mitchell, vice president of fitness for Gold’s Gym SoCal, at the franchise group’s Hollywood location.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

As groundbreaking weight-loss drugs reshape the consumer landscape, the difficulty for brands will be positioning themselves as authentic partners to GLP-1 users.


“I’m pretty cynical about companies getting into this space now,” said Lovell, the Mounjaro user. “It seems opportunistic. This is a huge phenomenon, there’s obviously money to be made in it. The major conglomerates come across to me more as just protecting their bottom line.”

To make it feel like less of a “money grab,” he said he’d like to see companies immerse themselves in the growing GLP-1 community and get to know their target customers.

“Otherwise, it’s Marie Antoinette: Let them eat cake — or let them eat protein bars, in this case.”

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