Buck-ing high prices

Oh how inflation has changed our perception of cool, cheap stuff. When we were kids, it was Woolworth’s..the five and dime store. Of course, that was a cruel come-on since there wasn’t much that actually cost a nickel or a dime, except a candy bar or a pack of gum. If I was a good boy while my mother spent hours shopping for clothes at the neighborhood department store, we could walk a few doors down to Woolworths and I was allowed to choose anything less than a dollar. Inevitably, I’d find a toy that cost 98 cents, but my mother always rounded up and that was too close to a buck to make the cut.

Today a dollar is the magic minimum. People swarm into the dollar stores and spend money like it grows on trees. Maybe that’s why the number two dollar store is the Dollar Tree. It’s only outranked, sales-wise, by Dollar General.

Today, my son and I visited the Dollar Star. Not sure it’s part of a chain, but a nice old guy runs the place and he carries everything from picture hangers to oddball brands of candy to birthday and playing cards to rather large images of Jesus. For those of faith, you can’t beat a buck to pay homage. I found a package of two little bottles of hand sanitizer. The label says the scent is “original.” I took a whiff. Yes..the scent is, indeed, original. In fact I’ve never smelled anything like it, although it reminded me a bit of my last visit to a slaughterhouse. At least I know my hands will not only be clean, but will smell like either raw sirloin or a butcher’s severed thumb.

The dollar store is also a good place to pick up the local newspaper. The Detroit Free Press costs $1.50 but only a buck at the dollar store. The paper sometimes feel a little thin, so maybe for 50 cents less we’re not getting all the obits.

Over the years I’ve bypassed the well-known big box discount stores for the dollar store when I’ve needed a water bottle, book of crossword puzzles, a bag of Fiddle Faddle or mechanic’s rags.

When I’m feeling flush, I visit a Five Below store where everything is FIVE dollars or below. That’s 500 percent more but the stuff they carry is usually many percent less expensive than other stores. For instance, when I got a new cell phone I looked for a case at a discount store. Some discount. The cases ranged from $25-$45. At Five Below I had a fairly decent choice of cases all priced at five bucks. Same for Bluetooth ear buds, USB cables and Pickleball paddles. I’m not sure I’d buy clothes there, though since I’d be afraid to wear them in the rain.

What this whole cheapo store phenomenon tells me is you can find a lot of life’s little needs for next to nothing. I mean, why pay 4 dollars for picture hangers when you can pay one little George Washington for the same thing? So what if you don’t recognize the brand — they all probably come from the same factory in Shanghai anyway.

I often wonder what my childhood would have been like if they had dollar stores back in the 60’s. Probably not that much different…since a dollar is still more than 98 cents.

Forbes.com contributor, Integrated Media Consultant, Franco PR, former Head, FCA Digital Media; Former CNN bureau chief/correspondent. Opinions are mine alone.

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Ed Garsten

Ed Garsten

Forbes.com contributor, Integrated Media Consultant, Franco PR, former Head, FCA Digital Media; Former CNN bureau chief/correspondent. Opinions are mine alone.

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