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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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Column: The GOP’s suicidal shutdown plan will murder America’s safety net



Column: The GOP’s suicidal shutdown plan will murder America’s safety net

It’s all well and good to treat the House Republicans’ careening toward a government shutdown as a cabaret farce staged for our amusement.

However, the threat to ordinary Americans, especially those dependent on government programs, is no joke.

Even if the Republicans don’t provoke the shutdown currently likely to begin at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, the budget cuts House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) has said he would support to meet the demands of his caucus’ far-right wing would devastate government assistance to the most vulnerable Americans.

As outlined by the Center for American Progress and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, two progressive think tanks working from official communications including the budget resolution released Sept. 20 by House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), they would involve these cuts in the social safety net:

  • A cut of $14.7 billion, or 77%, in Title I education grants to school districts with high levels of poverty, which fund services and supports for students from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds. The CBPP calls this funding “a core federal support for K-12 education.”

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes went about with a lantern in search of an honest man. We don’t even need that much: Just a man with a hint of steadfastness in his makeup. Apparently we’ll have to keep looking.

  • Reduction of the fruit and vegetable benefit in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) by 56% to 70%, affecting about 5 million participants.
  • Unsustainable reductions in low-income assistance programs for housing and heating.
  • $1.9 trillion in Medicaid cuts over 10 years.

These cuts go well beyond those agreed upon in the debt-ceiling negotiations last May, which McCarthy accepted.

As a sop to the Republicans’ rich patrons, the House caucus would rescind all of the $88 billion in additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service that was enacted as part of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.


This exceeds the $21-billion cut in the debt-ceiling negotiations. It’s the usual GOP penny-wise-and-plain-foolish approach to IRS funding, since it hamstrings the agency’s enforcement capabilities and taxpayer services such as phone advice.

Every dollar spent on enforcement yields multiples in recovered taxes. The IRS reported in July that it had recovered $38 million in delinquent taxes from more than 175 high-income taxpayers in previous months, using the enforcement funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. Obviously, that sticks in the craw of a party devoted to protecting its patrons from paying their obligations.

The absurd truth of all this “negotiating” is that it won’t help Speaker McCarthy, America’s most outstanding political invertebrate, get a funding proposal through his chamber that would be even remotely acceptable to the Senate. That includes Senate Republicans, who have signed on to a bipartisan spending scheme.

There are doubts that McCarthy can get any proposal through his caucus, which is in effect controlled by extremists who keep moving the goalposts by insisting on ever more draconian spending cuts. They show every sign of determination to shut the government down this weekend, even though it’s a political article of faith that the public always blames the GOP for shutdowns (as it should), leading to disaster at the ballot box.

The lack of character among congressional Republicans, not excepting those aligned with McCarthy, is truly amazing. These are people who have no compunctions about slandering working Americans while taking every opportunity themselves for slacking off.


Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), one of McCarthy’s lieutenants, remarked during the debt-ceiling negotiations that Democrats were “willing to default on the debt so they can continue making welfare payments for people that are refusing to work.”

The serene nerviness of this slander was truly impressive, given that the House of Representatives had taken 12 of 20 workdays off in April and 10 of 22 workdays (not counting Memorial Day) off in May. Overall, the House has been scheduled to be in session only 117 days in 2023, fewer than half of the 240 days most of the rest of us are at work.

The House took off the entire month of August and didn’t return to session until Sept. 12, all while the possible shutdown was looming. The rest were officially designated “district work days,” to which we can only respond, “Oh, sure.”

Graves has resurfaced during the shutdown negotiations, telling the Washington Post that the Republicans’ “bottom line is we’re singularly focused right now on achieving our conservative objectives,” which include “huge savings.”

As the Post toted up the numbers, those savings involved “taking more than $150 billion per year out of the part of the budget that funds child care, education subsidies, medical research and hundreds of additional federal operations.”


If there’s a silver lining in the House GOP’s performative horseplay, it’s that it has cured the political press of treating the standoff as a symptom of congressional dysfunction. It’s not; as is being reported more accurately and sensibly in recent days, it’s a symptom of Republican dysfunction and, more than that, McCarthy’s dysfunction.

No one doubts that a workable budget plan can be enacted by the House. McCarthy’s problem is that it would involve House Democrats agreeing to get it over the finish line. But any action that requires him to reach agreement with the Democrats would provoke his own right wing to mount an ouster campaign. So McCarthy is as guilty as the rest of them.

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes went about with a lantern in search of an honest man. We don’t even need that much: Just a man with a hint of steadfastness in his makeup. Apparently we’ll have to keep looking.

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Tesla sued for ‘widespread and ongoing’ racial harassment at California plant



Tesla sued for ‘widespread and ongoing’ racial harassment at California plant

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Tesla Inc. for “widespread and ongoing” racial harassment of its Black employees and for retaliating against workers who spoke out about the problem, the federal agency announced Thursday.

Since at least 2015, “Black employees at Tesla’s Fremont, California, manufacturing facilities have routinely endured racial abuse, pervasive stereotyping, and hostility as well as epithets,” the commission said in a statement.

The EEOC added: “Black employees regularly encountered graffiti, including variations of the N-word, swastikas, threats, and nooses, on desks and other equipment, in bathroom stalls, within elevators, and even on new vehicles rolling off the production line.”

The lawsuit was brought by the EEOC’s San Francisco District Office, which has jurisdiction over Northern California, northern Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.

EEOC officials said the lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages “and back pay for the affected workers, as well as injunctive relief designed to reform Tesla’s employment practices to prevent such discrimination in the future.”


EEOC Chairperson Charlotte A. Burrows said the lawsuit “makes clear that no company is above the law.”

“The EEOC will vigorously enforce federal civil rights protections to help ensure American workplaces are free from unlawful harassment and retaliation,” she said.

Attempts to reach officials at Tesla for comment were unsuccessful.

Tesla, the world’s most valuable car company, faces similar action on several other fronts.

In February, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than 4,000 current and former Black Tesla workers — the largest racial discrimination suit ever brought by the state based on number of workers affected.


In that suit, three former employees alleged that racist slurs in English and Spanish were often aimed at Black employees by co-workers and supervisors. They said Tesla segregated Black workers into separate areas, gave them the hardest tasks and routinely denied them promotions. And they alleged that when they informed the company about racist treatment, their complaints went ignored or they were fired.

Tesla disputed the former employees’ accounts, stating that the three workers did not complain to the company about racism and that any discipline they received was the result of their own workplace behavior.

“Race plays no role in any of Tesla’s work assignments, promotions, pay or discipline,” attorneys for the company said in a statement at the time. “Tesla prohibits discrimination, in any form.”

Thursday’s lawsuit puts a different kind of pressure on Tesla, said attorney Clifton W. Albright, founding partner and president of Albright, Yee & Schmit, a labor and employment law firm in downtown Los Angeles.

“The EEOC’s preference is to resolve issues quietly…. They don’t have a dog in this fight,” he said, unlike lawsuits filed by private firms or civil rights organizations.


“For the EEOC to come out so strongly, they must think there is significant evidence that the employer refuses or fails to recognize or address.”

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The unionization wave hits L.A. area bubble tea cafes



The unionization wave hits L.A. area bubble tea cafes

Six Boba Guys locations in Los Angeles County will become the first unionized boba stores in California after a successful election, the union said Wednesday.

The bobaristas will join the California Retail & Restaurant Worker Union, which also represents workers at Genwa. The Los Angeles Korean barbecue restaurant chain unionized in 2021.

“When companies remain neutral and do not interfere with anti-union campaigns … the workers will overwhelmingly support unionizing of their workplace,” said CRRWU President José Roberto Hernández.

Hernández said the union had been engaging with workers for the last six months. They filed for a union with the National Labor Relations Board in July and counted the results of the mail-in ballot election Wednesday afternoon. Boba Guys will be the first unionized boba stores in California, if not the country, Hernández said.

CRRWU also represents workers in ongoing unionization efforts at Korean grocery outlet Hannam Chain and at air purifier manufacturer Coway.


“We want to publicly express our support of the labor vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board and [CRRWU],” Andrew Chau, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Boba Guys, said in a statement. “We have always believed in the right to organize and have cooperated with CRRWU and the NLRB throughout the entire process.”

Chau encouraged other businesses to “follow suit and open up the conversation on the much-needed dialogue surrounding labor in this country.”

Last fall, the boba chain — known for its drinks made with organic milk, loose-leaf teas and homemade syrups — faced backlash after firing a worker from its flagship store in San Francisco’s Mission District; the worker said Boba Guys told her it was because she had made “inappropriate, disparaging” comments to co-workers that were sexual in nature, but she believed she had been fired for posting about unions in a company Slack channel.

At that store, several workers publicly complained of reduced hours, a decrease in time given to open and close stores, and fewer people working per shift. They also spoke of working through heat waves without air conditioning, dealing with vermin and having their hours cut when they took their concerns to management.

The company eventually permanently closed that location.


Carmen Lau, a former manager at Boba Guys’ Culver City shop, said workers had been unhappy for months about their working conditions but weren’t sure what they could do about it.

“How do you fix it? How do you do more than just talk to the people in charge who have heard your complaints a number of times, acknowledge [them], but there’s no follow through?” Lau said.

She left the company in May for another professional opportunity, but also because of increasing demands at work and issues that remained unaddressed, she said.

“The increasing expectations for work, just having less time to prepare and prepare all the ingredients for opening — I found that it was getting really impossible to meet those expectations,” Lau said.

News of what happened at the Mission District store spread rapidly and drove a lot of the desire to push for increased benefits and protections, said Stephen Lightfoot, who works at the Boba Guys location in North Hollywood.


As an actor and sound designer, Lightfoot was well aware of the benefits joining a union could bring workers and was active in spreading the word to his colleagues, who were “very excited,” he said.

Los Angeles has become a center of labor activity as screenwriters, actors, hotel employees and city staffers went on strike over the summer, and there are unionization efforts underway at companies including Starbucks, and Trader Joe’s.

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