Dollar Store Insanity!

It was right after I was layed off 18 months ago, that I began my exploration of Dollar and 99 cent stores in the Phoenix area.  Wow!  What a little gold mine.

But let me get you started at the very beginning.  Because, shoppers, there is a huge difference between the Dollar Store and a 99 cent store. Oh you think this is funny, eh?  Well, I have done actual research my friends.

You see, you may find a bag of Bic pens for a Dollar at one store and one almost identical for 99 cents somewhere else, but look closer.  The one for a buck has a dozen pens and the one at the 99 cent store only has ten.  You see, they do have a difference.   🙂  Alright, so you say you don’t care about that one penny.  But there is another big difference.

I used to think all these one price stores have the same products.  That is until I was watching Rachel Ray and a Dollar Store expert was on to show how to cook an elegant meal with everything from The Dollar Store.

WHAT?  I sat up and crawled to the TV to see this segment up close.  FOOD at a dollar store?  I had never seen food besides some packaged candy, crackers, canned goods.  But never fresh produce, frozen dinners, and pastries!  Sure enough, this woman showed incredible European crackers with fabulous cheeses, a complete meal with a salad and a terrific dessert.  Even Rachel Ray couldn’t believe it.

Where were these specialty dollar stores? I had to find them.

At that point I liked my Dollar Store by my Target at CrisTown Mall.  It was relatively clean and I delighted in staples like flour, mustard, ketchup, paper plates, chili, chips, etc. Most of the time these products are discontinued and they can be very high end gourmet mustards or European cookies for a dollar.  But no fresh produce or meats or frozen section there.

Then I noticed that on my way to The Bead Museum I was passing this very large 99 cent only store.  Hmmmm.  Could that be what they had in New York that the woman on TV was talking about.  I pulled in to check it out.

Lo and behold this store was twice the size of my cute Dollar store.  And there in the back was food.  A refrigerator case full of milk, cream, juice, frozen dinners, ice creams, breads, pastries, and gobs of produce.  Tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, eggs of all things!

I practically swooned.  So THIS was how we were going to get through the depress-recession!  I ran back up front, knocking down old ladies and pregnant women to get a grocery cart.  Then I plowed through gaggles of tiny children to get back to the food.  Then I slowed down to a stop and just stared.

I ran my finger over and read every carton studying the brands and where everything was from.  I was excited to discover odds and ends from Europe like pastas and jellies, cocoas and teas.  I began throwing them into my basket.  I used to pay a fortune for European products at AJ’s.  In the refrigerated case I took eggs and milk and eyed the tv dinners.  Then I turned to the produce.  I wanted to take one of everything.  Instead I grabbed lettuce, tomatoes (6 for 99 cents!) oranges, potatoes.  Of course they did not have near the selection of a grocery store, but there was plenty to create complete healthy meals.  Then I grabbed our sandwich bread for the week.

I felt stoked.  I strolled down the other aisles.

Why there was my own Pantene shampoo and conditioner – this  famous brand in regular sized bottles usually sold for $3.50 to 5.00.  Here the exact same size was only 99 cents!  I could not dump them in my basket fast enough.

Oh the cookies and crackers.  Not something you need every day.  But it was the unusual packaging that drew me.  Bright gorgeous boxes from Europe.  Shortbread cookies covered in dark chocolate.  All I could think was that that company went out of business or something.  Even the canned good exploration uncovered great unique products amisdt typical veggies and chili.

On another visit I took Stephen to see what he might discover.   That was when we were drawn into the baking goods and spices aisle.  Well,  I bet you noticed around Thanksgiving how insane the prices are on spices these days.   Guess where we get our spices now?  And very large containers at that!  Parsley, garlic salt, etc.  But Stephen was most turned on when he discovered large bottles of bouillon cubes of every flavor.  He uses them daily for his rice dishes.  He took one of each flavor. And since then we’ve been back for more.

Beyond the food, there is another great reason to shop at any of the dollar type stores.  When you first enter any of these stores, whether it is 99 cents or dollar, there are always large assortments of gift bags.  I can’t imagine those of you spending ridiculous amounts of money on a gift bag when you are in a hurry at a department store, some expensive tissue, a ribbon, a card.  Could cost you $10-15!  Especially cards these days. Up to $5.00 each.

And believe me, the gift bags at the dollar stores are not just ugly ones that did not sell somewhere.  (although there are those too)  I have found leopard and zebra gift bags in the shapes of purses!!!  With gold chains for the handles!!!  I bought every single one for my Brown Bag Hostesses.   I have found mylar bags.  And then all the tissue or raffia or bows, gift boxes, all of it, including scissors and scotch tape, can be found at a dollar store.   Fantastic!

And don’t get me started on cards.  Too late.  I am a huge card lover.  I am VERY particular about picking out a card.  But these days I cannot be choosy.  So, instead I went in search of cards as close as I could get during the holidays to the glittery three dimensional whimsical cards I used to buy.   And there they were.  Red striped, whimsical, glitter splashed on like snow, and one piece was a dye-cut and attached to give it that layered look.  You know the kind.  An expensive looking card.

They were not ONE for a buck.  These holiday cards were boxed up with FIVE for a buck!  I have spent up to $1.50 each or more for holiday cards over the years.  These were 20 cents each.  I nearly fainted.

I make baskets for my Brown Bag Party business.  The basket selection including colored raffia is perfect.

But perhaps my most treasured find at a dollar store has been the Tupperware section.   I know you remember how much you last paid for food storage things.  Perhaps they are not made quite as well.  But hey – I paid a dollar for six containers!  Good enough!

I just pulled up The 99 Cent Only stores local ad for the week.

6 tomatoes – 99 cents

Pam cooking spray – 99 cents

Whole milk, 2% or 1% –  1 gallon – any of them 99 cents and no limit on how many

Swiss Cocoa Mix  – 99 cents

Large grade AA eggs –  99 cents

Bag of 3 heads Romaine lettuce – 99 cents

Pancake mix – 99 cents

Small box cake mix – 99 cents

8 oz Hand Sanitizer – 99 cents

16 month 2010 calendars!    Umbrellas!  Batteries!  Flashlights!  Valentines gifts!  Valentine Candy!

One piece of advice before you leave to shop.  Research on line where all your 99 cent only and dollar stores and dollar tree stores are.  Then hit the pavement.

Oh, and try not to fall off your sandals when the girl at the register says like she just did to me, “That will be $19.00 ma’am.”    “What!” I screamed.  “For four bags of food! OMG!!”

Then I skipped out the door.

Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 7:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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