The Dollar-Store Economy

The ubiquitous dollar store is the American dream writ small.

Comments: 39

  1. I see people here complaining about cheap stuff that breaks after a couple of uses but most of it is the same garbage that comes from Wal-Mart and Target. I live in a very rural area and the closest town only has Wal-Mart, I am loath to shop there but sometimes I have no other choice. I had the same can opener for 15 years, when it broke I went to Wal-Mart to find another, every single brand that they sold was 'Made in China.' I have bought 4 in the last year!

    I have to buy books and music off of the internet, I have to drive for over an hour to get to a city and now half of the store that I used to frequent are out of business and I spend all day just trying to find find stores.

    I am so sick of cheap garbage!

    I am wits end, Wal-Mart and the dollar stores have run every store out of business in this town!

    I don't need or want a lot of stuff, I just want a few decent things.... is that too much to ask?

  2. No thanks. I'll shop at my Kroger-- the prices are competitive and the work force is union. Don't we see that there is a high price to this quest for cheap-- in the form of depressed wages and more landfill fodder.

  3. This really is a frightening change in our economy. Damaged and out of date goods and seconds used to be off-loaded to second and third world economies to protect the prime market. Now they're being off-loaded on us. Maybe the beginning of the end was Detroit's rebates in the 70s. Once you go there, it's oh so difficult not to slide further into discounts. Frequent Flier Miles? Another bust.

    Now and then I do shop at these stores, sometimes only for the psychological gratification, as if I've got a few coins burning a hole in my pocket and am listening to a barker at a state fair. I shudder in a kind of horror as I pass food items hoping I'll never cross that divide, putting something from the discount world into my mouth. Still, it's not hard to encounter the steep downside of this marketplace, even with an alert skepticism. Target, for example, introduced a dollar isle to compete with these stores a number of years ago. When I purchased what I thought was a cute teapot, but returned to exchange it for a different color, I found that it had been recalled, probably for lead. Target is vigilant and committed to a strict recall policy, but what of these smaller stores and independent liquidators?

    A few years ago I bought some nice-looking eyeglass cases , but a week later I noticed when I got them close to my face that they smelled like a tire store! What's that about?? There's usually a good reason for discounting. Beware!

  4. I shop occasionally at the "Dollar" type stores, as well as Big Lots, Ocean State Job Lot, & TJ Maxx, but ONLY to purchase items for less than another retail outlet. Many items are made in China, and it's imperative that the shopper look at each product for its origin: the copycat packaging can be very misleading. If it's food, cosmetic, medical or dental (would enter my body), I never buy or use a Chinese product: too risky. Job Lot carries Bob's Red Mill grains and products, and I purchased two high end stainless steel chefs' pots and pans there for 2/3 less than retail. The stores serve a niche for the poor and not so poor. Still, caveat emptor.

  5. I seek to spend more on food, shopping at the local farmer's market, buying organic products, reading labels, purchasing my meat from farms where animals are raised in a traditional pastured manner. I think many of us spend too little for food and our health suffers as a result. However, I also don't see why I should pay .30 a roll more for toilet paper when I can get it for that much less in the dollar store on my street. I think, as some of the other commenters are also indicating, that there is a growing segment of the middle class that shops thoughtfully, pays attention to the sources of their food, but also gains a feeling of enjoyment from saving wherever possible and feeling the value of their money--something that used to be considered a virtue: frugality.

  6. Yay, Salem! That area has very little work; lots of food processing plants have closed there and every time I go the people seem poorer and poorer. But they are the nicest people I have ever met.

    I have gone a few times to Dollar Stores with a thrifty, non-poor bargain loving friend but mostly I prefer a thrift store for fun finds.

  7. I have nothing against getting a few cheap items at dollar stores every now and then. Maybe a mug here, some batteries there, an American flag. Sometimes some Christmas lights. Not in a million years would I buy any food at one of those places, not even canned beans. Its obviously the inventory of big companies that has been sitting around forever, waiting to be taken out of the factory, sold at whatever they can get for it. Theres nothing wrong with Dollar stores, its just sad that so many exist and people need to rely on them. Never in a million years would I have thought shares of Dollar Tree would go up in price parabolically.

  8. More proof we are circling the drain........

  9. This irrepressible urge to consume junk is why we will never save the environment.

  10. I earned over $100,000 last year and I choose to shop at dollar stores. For one thing, I don't have the need to avoid dollar stores because of their lack of snob appeal. I guess that's one advantage those of us with ADHD have: we tend not to have a highly developed internal social positioning system.

    One example of why I shop at the local dollar store: I was looking for a 1-to-3 plug telephone adapter. The local Walmart store had a made-in-China one for $12.95. I got a made-in-China one at the local dollar store for $1.25, or less that 1/10 of the Walmart price. Being a techie, I have bought many audio and video items from dollar stores and have always had good luck with them, in terms of their durability and usability. The only real difference between a dollar store audio or video item and the one at the high-end store is the cost. Well, the dollar store item is often missing the marketing glitz and the fat packaging.

    Otherwise, the trick to dollar-store shopping is to be an informed, aware shopper. Does the item, and its quality suit your needs? Often you don't need Sherman tank construction. Is it for short-term use, or is it not subject to severe mechanical stresses? I've recently used dollar store plastic tubs as bins in my workshop and they work fine.

    As for food, I don't often buy food from at the dollar store, but when I do, I am judicious. Read the labels, check expiration dates and avoid food from China, though often national brand food products "produced" in North America often contain ingredients from China that are not identified on the label.

  11. I'm a bit astonished that the majority of comments made about this story are about the product quality (or lack thereof), the or the layout of the dollar stores. Silly me, I thought the point was the in-your-face evidence of a declining American middle class, who have no choice but to rediscover being frugal as their jobs disappear, wages stagnate or decline, work hours are cut, and benefits reduced. What's next, a story about how newspapers make stylish insulation for your coat?

  12. Consumers must not be "taken" by these discount stores. they used to have fabulous bargains, really lower prices, but today we need to shop around.My recent experiences in these stores revealed that their prices were no different than supermarket prices on many popular items.Perhaps because the middle and upper classes are now shopping in these stores is why they are raising prices. Who knows? Just fdbe cautious!

  13. This is entirely the wrong idea and another huge step in the wrong direction. While I haven't read all the comments, or for that matter didn't get past the 2nd page of this article, I understand what is being implied. This is a horrible mindset for people. Less is more could never be truer present day. These stores all stock cheaply made knockoffs, nothing made in America, recalled food product, and most importantly based on the photos, a store stocked with candy, soda, chips, and basically the worst of the worst. As referenced in the article you can save 40 cents on a gallon of clorox? Really? Why not just pay fair market from your local mom and pop grocery store (maybe keeping them around wouldn't be a terrible idea) and here is a thought, use less, like maybe instead of doing wash twice a day, every day, how about once every two days. All this does is compound our issues of excess. The buy in bulk mentality, but for less accomplishes nothing. Its a further dumbing down of our society and doesn't solve the consumption problem.

    I may have already failed at not sounding pretentious in this post and this is equally at a time when my spending has slowed, I find any purchase I do make, to be top shelf. I despise the bottom shelf mentality.
    I find myself paying a little extra for locally grow items or clothing manufactured in the US. I will only buy clothing made in Italy, US, UK, Portugal and certain places in central/south America.

    I don't know, but an article like this makes me feel even worse about the future of our American society. And you know what? When the inevitable financial armageddon arrives in the next few years, I'll have a surefire flashlight with a box of long lasting ion batteries, a benchmade knife, and whatever else in my couple hundred dollar tool kit. Good luck with your $99 batteries and $1.25 flashlight.

  14. The problem is that stuff at traditional stores costs too much. Example: Yesterday, one grapefruit at the Gristede's supermarket on 96th street cost $1.99. At the sidewalk fruit vendor across the road, I can buy 3 for $1.00.

  15. Price is not always an indicator of quality - or of junk. You need to know what you're buying.

    I shop at all price points -- from the dollar store on up to higher end department stores like Nordstrom, Bloomingdales or Saks. I love the dollar stores for certain items, but you do need to read labels and shop smartly -- true no matter where you shop. My local dollar store is the only store in my area that carries a particular brand of non-irritating soap that I love and rely on and stock up on. (and while I would not do my food shopping there, I admit I've succumbed to the lure of my favorite name-brand potato chips!)

    To the woman who criticized shopping in TJ Maxx because she only buys classic, expensive items: I've bought fabulous, well-made classics at both TJ Maxx and Marshalls that have served me well for years -- and I paid significantly less, though the brands were the same as carried at the high-end. (and were not cheap knock-offs either; I know how to sew, know fabric and know the difference.)

    Dollar stores fill a need today. While it's easy to say save your money and buy quality, not everyone has the money or option to shop at higher end. Paying more money doesn't guarantee quality. Shop smart and buyer beware!

  16. The 1.25 store near our home went out of business. I guess they were too expensive.

  17. My, what a lot of snobs we have here. Fortunately it isn't compulsory to shop at these stores.

    For those arguing about the batteries, take a few minutes to research actual wholesale prices on a site like alibaba.com - the FOB prices may make you look at your retailer with a new level of contempt. There's only one way to make them, and it wouldn't surprise me if Duracells and the Dollar Store kind are made on the same machines in the same factory.

  18. I agree with the readers who say that buying cheap items is wasteful because the items are not quality and do not last. However, I have found that when I buy items at real stores, they usually say "made in china" on them, and even though I've paid a lot.... the item does not last! I bought a spatula from Pampere* C*ef and it fell apart. It was quite expensive. Therefore, I have decided, if nothing lasts these days anyway, I might as well stop being made a fool of and just buy it at the dollar stores or discount stores. Then when it breaks right away, I don't feel like as big a fool.

    I think this is the real problem with all our essentials being made "over seas". The Asian cultures have an "it's good enough" quality assurance philosophy (minus Japan); whereas other cultures, like the USA and Mexico and some others take GREAT PRIDE in their work. Can I get a witness?

  19. Yes, you have to be careful and avoid the salt and sugar, but the values are there. The dollar mouthwash and paste are just fine, as is the dish detergent. Soymilk is a fraction of the price sold in the grocery store. Alkaline batteries work great. I am a regular and also the author of Living Cheap & Loving it, tomatoes in the flower bed - on amazon.

  20. I agree that the dollar store is the way to go! In fact they are so good that supermarkets have even put in small sections that mimic them. My truck just had its emission system crap, what used to be covered by the manufacturer is now my problem: $1,000. Have you bought groceries or tires lately? I won't even go there with the traders driving the price of gas. Yet, employers site that inflation is dead so raises, if you get them are not keeping up. If you lose your job, you are sunk. With the global crisis where whole countries may default has people shopping wherever they can stretch their dollar. I give the dollar stores a big thumbs up! Brand name stuff and even their generic over the counter drugs work just as well as drug store ones at a fraction of the cost! So, vote with your wallet because as the last budget circus demonstrated, no Democrat, Republican or Tea-Party card holder gives a hoot about you! Good Shopping see you at the Dollar Stores!

  21. Landfill stores!

    yes you can find the occsional useful products but mostly all processed food and crappy plastics. Target $1 section also landfill products.

  22. My complaint about dollar stores is the name. Things in them usually cost more than a dollar, e.g. a pair of reading glasses that cost $6 and broke within days. Tiffany's is a dollar store. Just you need several thousand to get something good.

  23. Central urban areas used to have Woolworth's, Kresge's, W. T. Grant's, McCrory's ... as well as many other stores I can't recall. We used to call them "5 and 10's". In many cities, they were close to the slums and catered to an urban populace, mostly those who had low income, used public transportation and lived from day to day, not knowing if they could pay the next month's rent.

    These "dollar" stores will continue to thrive as we stratify and expand the numbers of us who are unemployed or, much more important, UNDER-employed - working for wages that Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry tell us we dont' deserve.

    ... get ready for the mass looting here that was recently experienced in England. ... we're only beginning to see the "flash-mob" effect.

  24. The fact that these stores are winning against Wal-Mart and Target is a sad statement of the state of our economy and country.

    There is NOTHING to be proud of here. Don't make mistake surviving for living. I would rather pay more for something that lasts and is well made than to clutter the world with a lot of useless junk whose manufacture happens to use up even more of what little carbon fuel we have left. Or to ingest something that will make me sick instead of being nourishing.

  25. I watched a family shop for groceries in a Fresno CA Dollar Tree. Some things are surprisingly expensive - just packaged in smaller sizes for $1. However, I regularly shop at dollar stores in both Canada and the US. I know the merchandise, know what is 'cheap and shoddy' and what is EXACTLY the same as what is sold elsewhere for a big markup. Never was 'let the buyer beware' more appropriate. I also know a lot of people who won't shop at a dollar store because they are afraid of being seen there. Get a life - retail is retail. Markups reflect overhead (rents, utilities) and variable costs (labour). Cost of goods probably varies a lot less than most assume and the differences in quality are not that great - a kitchen tool (say a spatula) is made in China where ever you buy it from among the 'middle range stores' - you're fooling yourself if you think the quality control varies much between most stores and the dollar store.

  26. The dollar store is place to go for kitchen utensils, anti-plaque mouth rinse, school supplies, and the shiny doodads and trinkets young grandchildren totally adore.

  27. Buying what you can in consignment shops in really wealthy areas is always a great way to find very good quality items at a fraction of their cost. The rich buy and discard items from high end clothing to furniture. Everything in between. Maybe I shouldn't be writing this. LOL

    Thomas McMahon
    Millis Ma

  28. A generation or three ago the 'Five and Dime' was the only store for the working poor. On Saturday we could go to Kresge or Woolworth or the variety stores down the block and buy any manner of trinket or good (many 'Made in Japan') what a wonder. Dollar stores are not so different,just 'Made in China/India/Vietnam et al', great capitalism for the masses, lighten up and by the wine holder for a buck

  29. To me this is another example of the widening divide between the 'haves and 'have nots'...Many people are resigned to shop here because they have to stretch their dollars as far as they can. How many of these stores do we have now ? They have been able to expand due to the ever expanding numbers of lower income people. How many items in these stores are 'Made in China'? Our unemployment rates are high and our growth rate is stagnant due to our lack of manufacturing jobs. Everything you pick up says either....made in China or made in Taiwan.

  30. It always amuses me when people talk about the "real" cost of producing the cheap goods these stores sell, specifically the cheap labor needed to produce them. Well, as far as I know, most higher end stores also use very cheap labor, both to produce their goods and to sell them. The only difference is that they get to pocket a lot more money.

  31. Looks like a law banning "Dollar Stores" and the "Tea Party" if the Liberals and Progressives ever take control of the U.S. There is something else to look forward to in 2012.

  32. This chapter of the U.S. economy gleefully contributed by the GOP.

  33. These stores, like Walmart, depress me for so many reasons. I don't shop in any of them if I can help it, and one reason is that I don't really think they're actually cheaper. As many have pointed out, if you pay $1 for something that breaks 5 minutes after you bought it, you overpaid. I once bought a pack of batteries for $1 at one of these stores, and they didn't actually fit the battery powered devices in our home - surprise, surprise. You get what you pay for. However, the best reason not to shop in these stores is that they pay their employees nothing and support horrible working conditions in other countries by purchasing poorly made products produced in sweat shops. Whatever happened to buying quality products and paying people a decent working wage? Oh yeah, that's right: the dollar store is capitalism at it's very best.

  34. #11 is way snobby...

  35. I'm so sorry to read the implicit approval for dollar stores in this article. The reason so many people have dicey financials in the USA is the outsourced labor and goods flow, which has stolen jobs and cash from our economy in a very big way. If Clorox costs a dollar in a dollar store, and it's made in the USA, if you have money and you bought the cheap Clorox, you've stolen from your neighbors. When when when will well-off people in the USA wake up enough to understand that when they are cheap they are robbing not only their neighbors, but their own futures, too???

  36. I shop at Dollar Stores periodically but am still selective. I don't buy the food, but why pay MORE for greeting cards, or name brand cleaning supplies, candles & crafts? Some dollar stores are better than others. Several in our city closed shop, but the 2 I frequent are still doing well. I credit them with cleaner stores and better products all around. Indeed, why pay MORE, even at Walmart, for the same thing?

  37. I'm a freelance writer, so I do shop at such places -- Big Lots, too -- by economic necessity, but I can't resist the thrill of a bargain. Or the entertainment value. The eye-rolling and big-sighing of my 13-year-old daughter when I announce another trip to Big Snotz is Hollywood-grade fun at a dollar-store price.

    And you'd be surprised how many items you regularly overpay to buy at your local Whole Foods are at Big Snotz, undoubtedly remaindered from stores where this high-grade stuff failed to find a market.

    A baleful trend? No, this is economic efficiency.

  38. i'd rather buy used name brand clothing from the salvation army..take them to the laundry and wash them.than buy clothing from t j max.. tjmaxxs' clothing looks so cheap.and poorly maded

  39. I am a product of the great depression and a Scottish father. I have over $140,000 in two checking accounts as well as having successful mutual funds(up until 2008 and last month -reason for money in checking accounts!) A family joke is that my daughters and grandson get fifty cent cards from Dollar General with $1000-$2000 checks in them for their holiday occasions! The cards are great- surplus from Canada, I believe----and no one has ever complained! DG,as well as Walmart, also carries Wolf Brand Chili, which,I,as a born and bred Texan, crave as a comfort food. I eat no food canned in China. I did,however, realize that if I went to the most pretentious Chinese restaurant the ingredients would be from China! Along the same lines, no seafood from an oriental country! DG also has olives from both Isreal and Egypt. CA, move over! I have nothing to prove! I could continue to ramble - but will stop!