By Orisabiyi Williams, Chair of the Greater Tulsa African American Affairs Commission
TULSA, Okla. – The Tulsa Development Authority approved the building of a Dollar General store by the Rupe Helmer Group at 750 E. Pine St. between Pine Street Christian Church and Carver Middle School in January. North Tulsa is inundated with Family Dollar Stores and Dollar General Stores, and the community is taking a stand by protesting the development near East Pine Street and North Peoria Avenue.
The community worked to prevent the group from building another Dollar General last year down the street from where it has been approved to be built now. In an effort to prevent similar community activism, the authority did not communicate with the community about the new development plans. The authority’s agenda item appeared to mask the purpose of the potentially contentious vote by listing the item as “The Rupe Helmer Group” instead of “Dollar General.” The agenda item doesn’t even name “Dollar General”:
Discussion, consideration and vote approving a Resolution authorizing entering into a Redevelopment Agreement with Rupe Helmer Group Inc., for the sale and redevelopment of TDA land located at 750 East Pine Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
City Councilor Vanessa Hall Harper attended the authority’s January meeting and only learned about the Dollar General development when someone questioned that agenda item. Harper spoke out against it, but the TDA board voted to approve. Only one board member, Carl Bracy, voted “No.”
A 2015 life expectancy analysis, “Narrowing the Gap,” shows that North Tulsans’ life expectancy is significantly lower than their South Tulsan counterparts. People that live in North Tulsa have a life expectancy of 67, while people who live in South Tulsa have a life expectancy of 81. The analysis from the Tulsa Health Department, partnering with the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa and the George Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the difference, or gap, has narrowed from 14 to 10.5 years. What factors contribute to the difference in quality of life between North Tulsa and South Tulsa?
South Tulsa has many easily accessible stores that offer a wide variety of quality fresh food such as meat, fruit, and vegetables, including organic options. Dollar Generals or Family Dollars are difficult to find in South Tulsa. North Tulsa has a Family Dollar and Dollar General store on what feels like every corner and no access to healthy foods.
Residents who own cars can drive to South Tulsa for quality foods. But for many, that is not feasible, and Family Dollar and Dollar General have become their only option to buy food.
These stores are nothing more than processed food sanctuaries, and a 2015 HealthyStuff study found that 81% of products in Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree stores are made with hazardous chemicals. Testing was performed on 164 products from these three stores and it concluded that 133 of the 164 products contained hazardous chemicals in levels high enough to cause serious health effects.
HealthyStuff “tested 1,000′s (sic) of products from dozens of retailers over the last ten years. And on average the dollar store products are some of the poorest performing from a chemical hazard perspective,” according to Jeff Gearhart, HealthyStuff Research Director. He is “particularly concerned about the comparatively high percentage of products containing hazardous plasticizers.”
Phthalates, polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC), and lead were all found in the tested products, and these chemicals are known to cause birth defects, asthma, learning disabilities, cancer, diabetes, and other serious health conditions.
Chief Egunwale Fagbenro Amusan, who participated in the protest Saturday with about two dozen other residents, said, “No wonder why we have clinics on every corner.”
Tulsans have no problem seeing the difference between the zip codes on the north and south side of the city. This knowledge should serve as a call to action for everyone in Tulsa no matter their race or socioeconomic status. Most parents in North Tulsa have to worry about keeping their children safe from gang violence, strangers, and police brutality, but knowing what we know now, Dollar General and Family Dollar must be added to the list of dangers.
Harper is asking residents to call and send letters to the Rupe Helmer Group and to the Tulsa Development Authority asking them not to build the proposed Dollar General Store, but to approve and encourage developments that will create healthy economic growth for the community.
Sign the change.org petition and follow the City Councilor Harper’s Facebook page to get involved. Let’s all do our part!
Rupe Helmer Group can be contacted at 918-749-1880, 5800 E. Skelly Dr. Ste. 1200 Tulsa, OK 74135.
Tulsa Development Authority can be contacted at 918-592-4944, 1216 N. Lansing Ave. Ste. D, Tulsa OK 74106.