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19 Investigates goes undercover after city council member calls 2 specific dollar stores in his ward ‘disgusting’

Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 3:05 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A Cleveland city council member is calling out two specific dollar stores in his ward, calling them dirty and disgusting.

He’s also calling on the mayor to take action.

19 Investigates found some residents have had enough too. We went undercover to see what residents are dealing with.

We also reached out to the city and Dollar General for answers.

19 Investigates found weeds overgrown and boxes blocking store aisles at the Dollar General at E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland, one of the locations in Councilmember Mike Polensek’s ward.

Trash was all over the parking lot. The dumpster and carts out back were overflowing, along with the trash cans.

Trash on the property of Dollar General at St. Clair Ave & E. 157th St.
Trash on the property of Dollar General at St. Clair Ave & E. 157th St.(WOIO)

We shot cell phone video showing items strewn across the floor, boxes, and carts in the aisles, shelves and toys on the ground, and a wet floor with no warning signs around it.

A cart and boxes block the aisle at the Dollar General at E. 157th & St Clair Ave.
A cart and boxes block the aisle at the Dollar General at E. 157th & St Clair Ave.(WOIO)

Tony Valerio grew up here in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland.

“It’s kind of gone downhill, that’s for sure,” he said.

Valerio is giving back by fixing up some houses.

He said he went to the Dollar General on St. Clair the other day.

“I was just appalled. There was stuff on the floors, people were tripping on it. People were walking out with stuff not even paying. It was a little scary—but it was disgusting,” he said.

He worries stores like this are making things worse.

“I think it definitely hurts the community. The whole thing. If people go in there, they can’t buy what they need, they’re leaving the community to spend money elsewhere,” he said.

A wet floor with no signs around it at the Dollar General on E. 157th St. & St. Clair.
A wet floor with no signs around it at the Dollar General on E. 157th St. & St. Clair.(WOIO)

Councilmember Mike Polensek told us to check out two specific stores in his ward.

He’s had enough.

“You can’t cut your grass? You can’t clean up around your building? You can’t clean up inside your store? Why be so disrespectful to our residents?” he said.

Many people depend on dollar stores for food, from the elderly to those who don’t have cars.

Polensek wants action from the Cleveland Health Department and the mayor’s office.

“Get out there, cite these places. If they don’t clean up, if they don’t cut their weeds, clean the inside of their stores, check for outdated items, put ‘em in housing court. Enough’s enough here,” he said.

Overgrown weeds and a dangling power line out front of the Dollar General store on Lakeshore...
Overgrown weeds and a dangling power line out front of the Dollar General store on Lakeshore Boulevard and E. 159th St. in Cleveland.(WOIO)

There is another Dollar General nearby that Polensek told us he gets a lot of complaints about, at East 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard.

We noticed overgrown weeds and a dangling power line out front of that store.

Inside, the aisles were mostly clear.

But we did find medicine lying in a box on the floor, cleaning supplies in disarray, and toys piled up, messy on the shelves.

“It’s cluttered in there, every aisle has boxes and boxes where ain’t nobody taking the inventory out,” said a woman who lives nearby and did not want to be identified.

She worries about wheelchair access for the elderly who live in nearby buildings.

“Do something with this, clean it up!” she said.

Polensek has another idea to do just that.

“There’s one thing we have, it’s called the dollar bill. And with that dollar bill comes power. So maybe we all start using the power of the dollar bill to where we shop at,” he said.

People like Tony Valerio hope something changes fast.

“Mr. Polensek needs all the help he can get!” he said.

Health Department Inspections

We checked health inspections of these two specific Dollar General stores over the last several years and found two critical violations at each store, including rodent droppings near food and repeat violations for cleaning.

Since 19 Investigates started checking into this, the Cleveland Health Department inspected both stores again a few days ago.

Inspectors found two more critical violations at the store at E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard for expired baby food.

They found no critical violations at the store on St. Clair Avenue.

But they did find eight non-critical violations, including “dirty storage shelving and a dirty produce display case,” a repeat violation.

They also found “unnecessary items and litter” on the premises.

We’re still waiting to hear back from the city of Cleveland to find out whether they’ve issued any fines or tickets to these stores.

We reached out to Dollar General and they sent us this statement:

We are disappointed our store standards at two Cleveland locations fell short of both our customers’ and our own expectations.

We are taking immediate action with our service providers to address these concerns and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

We remain committed to be a positive business partner and good community neighbor in Cleveland.

Late Friday afternoon, 19 Investigates heard back from Dollar General again after we published our story online.

A representative sent us photos of the two stores cleaned up outside.

She said they quickly addressed the concerns brought up in our story.

E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and  E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue((Source: Dollar General Corp.))
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and  E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue((Source: Dollar General Corp.))
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and  E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue((Source: Dollar General Corp.))
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and  E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue((Source: Dollar General Corp.))
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and  E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue
E. 159th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard and E. 157th Street and St. Clair Avenue((Source: Dollar General Corp.))

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