LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The are dozens of Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar Stores in the Louisville area. As of June 5, there’s also one Community Dollar.
Tucked into a modest storefront in a Dixie Highway shopping center, Community Dollar is part of a new wave of family-owned dollar stores, where the founders negotiate with distributors, run the cash register and keep the social media pages active. And unlike the corporate giants it's now competing with, Community Dollar keeps the money spent there in the community.
“We’ve had a lot of support locally with us being a small family and being Black-owned,” said Tavonna Johnson, who opened Community Dollar with her husband Eric less than two weeks ago.
Like its corporate competitors, Community Dollar stocks a large variety of items, from dried pasta to paint brushes. It’s prices are “very friendly,” Johnson says. But Community Dollar aims to offer more than convenience and affordability.
“It’s about a sense of belonging,” she said. “You’re going to get great service locally with people that actually care.”
It’s right there in the store’s name. “This is part of your community,” she said.
The Johnsons were inspired to start their business after listening to a sermon from the Rev. Kevin Cosby at Louisville’s St. Stephen Church. Tanvonna remembers him talking about the importance of following your dreams. Eric recalled a message about building generational wealth.
After reflecting on the sermon, the couple decided to start a business. “That was our dream,” Tavonna said. They soon found that opening a dollar store made perfect sense. "We shop at dollar stores all the time,” she said. “We see the benefit of dollar stores.”
Major dollar store chains have come under fire in recent years for clustering in underserved areas and freezing out mom-and-pop shops. They're often able to undercut locally-owned businesses on prices, but typically fail to supply some essentials, such as fresh food, to their customers. This critique doesn’t hold for Community Dollar, which is no threat to the nearby Kroger and keeps the money it makes in the local economy.
There's also only one location of Community Dollar — for now. “My dream is big, like really big,” Eric said. “I would like to have multiple stores.”
For now, the Johnsons are staying busy handling Community Dollar’s steady traffic, which has been largely driven by social media. The I AM Dixie Highway Facebook page has been a particular help.
On Wednesday, when the store was especially busy, Eric enlisted help from their 15-year-old son, Justin, who is one of the primary reasons Community Dollar exists at all.
“We wanted to be able to pass something down to our family — our loved ones, our children, our grandchildren,” Tavonna said. “We wanted to start that for our family, for our son.”