‘It’s just something perfect for the community:’ Dollar Sto’ provides fresh produce, household items in Columbia area food desert

Published: Aug. 29, 2021 at 12:09 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new type of dollar store is calling Columbia home in an area where there was previously very little convenient access to fresh produce. The Dollar Sto’ held its Grand Re-opening event Saturday to celebrate being approved for SNAP benefits – something that was previously lacking in the area.

“There’s no grocery stores within a five-mile radius,” said one local resident.

Brian Thomas is a Columbia native from the Booker Washington Heights neighborhood who’s seen grocery stores close through the years.

“On Beltline, for example, there was a Bi-Lo there, way back in the day, there was Piggly Wiggly. The Save-A-Lot that was by Drew Wellness Center, that’s gone,” said Thomas. “The Bi-Lo that was over there by North Main, that’s gone.”

The neighborhood is considered a food desert, an area where there are no convenient grocery options.

“A lot of times, people don’t want to come into the community because they have this stigma,” said Shiryl Davis, owner of Rawkin’ Kitchen.

“So now they can come just a little bit closer,” said Thomas. “I know there’s not a whole lot of local stores in the area no more, so to prevent a customer from having to go far down to Gervais Street or having to go on Two Notch Road, they can come right here and get all those things.”

The Dollar Sto’ provides fresh fruits and vegetables, household supplies, canned foods, beverages, and snacks.

“This community has no means of getting some cabbage or collard greens or some strawberries – what have you – anything that’s fresh,” said Thomas.

The idea came about when a tutoring business in the building next to Thomas was having trouble finding somewhere to send kids to buy after-school snacks. Before, students had to walk far across a busy street. Thomas then started planning his store in the very building that his dad built back in 1989.

“It’s just something perfect for the community,” said Mariah Jeffcoat, Co-Owner of The Lemonade Twins. “It’s a safer environment for the kids.”

In an underserved area, access to food is harder for those that don’t drive.

“A lot of people in this area, they don’t have transportation and the bus lines is limited, so they needed something closer in the heart of the city,” said Jeffcoat.

Thomas is making sure community is at the heart of his store, too.

“I have a notebook over there that, from day one, that, for example, one customer needed some butterfingers, and I didn’t have them until recently, so I went back in my notebook and remembered, ‘Oh, I need to get those Butterfingers,’” said Thomas.

His stock is constantly changing to fill the needs of his customers. During the event Saturday, Thomas hosted locally owned vendors to support and highlight entrepreneurship.

“It’s giving our other cultures a chance to see that everybody can make a change and be whatever they want to be no matter how long it takes,” said Cierra Jenkins, owner of Dae’s Delicious Dogs.

Thomas says he will continue to host vendors each week to spotlight local businesses and provide another convenient and affordable food option for the Columbia neighborhood.

The Dollar Sto’ is located at 3017 Farrow Road in Columbia.

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