David Terry walked into the Dollar Tree on White Bear Avenue in St. Paul on Easter Sunday. He was in the market for a notebook. Terry hadn't patronized the discount retailer in the Hillcrest Shopping Center for months.
He was taken aback by what he saw. Or, in this case, what he didn't see.
Food shelves once filled with boxes, bags, and cans now lay bare. There wasn't an edible item to be found.
"I thought maybe because it was Easter that's why the snacks were all gone," he says. "Then I noticed all the food was gone. I was trying to make sense of it so that's why I asked the cashier."
The store stopped selling food a while ago after it hadn't renewed its food license, Terry was told.
What did you do with all the food? he asked.
"The cashier told me they'd thrown everything out," says Terry. "That they had to rather than donate it to a food shelf or some other charity. That's crazy and that's what really upset me."
According to Steven Diaz, a manager with the Minnesota Department of Health Environmental Health Division, the only food that "absolutely cannot be donated" is perishable food items.
"Everything else is definitely fair game for a business to explore whether it can be donated or not," he adds.
In the case of the St. Paul Dollar Tree, one of more than 14,000 stores in the chain, it would appear that it chose not to.
That doesn't come as a surprise to Diaz.
"The most common response by businesses that are closing or losing their license is to throw food away," he says. "Some businesses do plan accordingly and sell items at an extremely discounted price or give it away for free at 'last day,' 'going out of business,' or closing events they host at their business.
"But, unfortunately, we do see situations where the owners simply walk away from the business leaving food… not caring about what could have been donated."
Dollar Tree spokesperson Randy Guiler tells City Pages he doesn't know whether the food was thrown away. All he knows is "We did what we were required to do by the state."
He adds that Dollar Tree "is currently working with the state to renew the store's food license."
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