A dollar store by any name still a bargainRobin Washington column: If a dollar store couldn’t make it in the mall area off Superior’s Tower Avenue, then how about a … dollar store?
By: Robin Washington, Duluth News Tribune
If a dollar store couldn’t make it in the mall area off Superior’s Tower Avenue, then how about a … dollar store?
“I saw that. It seemed strange,” Superior’s Mark Johnson said Friday of the new Dollar Tree that opened on Labor Day, next door to the Dollar Days that went belly up in 2008.
Michelle Moden of Superior also called it odd, though she added: “It’s a good location.”
A big help is the gigantic Dollar Days sign, for years directing shoppers to the vacant and now water-damaged store. It dwarfs the one for the new Dollar Tree, but don’t let size fool you; before going bankrupt, Dollar Days numbered about a dozen stores, in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Dollar Tree has 4,500, which the company says are doing fine.
“We believe we can operate in a recovering economy,” Dollar Tree spokeswoman Shelley Davis said from Chesapeake, Va.
Their former competitor agrees.
“That Dollar Tree will do wonderful there. The problem we had is we just kind of overextended ourselves and started too many stores,” former Dollar Days co-owner Ray Gerads said from St. Cloud.
Dollar Tree, by contrast, is armed with no end of marketing data.
“We like to be where Middle America is shopping,” Davis said, describing the chain’s core customer as “women with children with a household income a little below $50,000.”
And whatever the economy is doing, she said, “You still want to recognize life’s special events — graduations, birthdays.”
Those party supplies are what brought Moden to the store.
“I’m doing a birthday party,” she said, adding, “I don’t go to a dollar store too often.”
Well, who does — or who’d admit to it? — even if assistant manager Michael Dean says he regularly rings up orders for $25 that could outfit an army.
“Essentially, you can walk in here and survive on what you can get,” he said.
Quantitatively speaking, that includes items that by mass alone would seem impossible to nab for a dollar, like full-size brooms.
“Yeah, we have those,” says Dean.
Quality is a different story, with shoppers recognizing their purchases might be a mixed bag.
“I did buy food at a Dollar Tree once, and I got sick. It was mozzarella sticks,” said Robert Mrotek of Inner Strength Martial Arts in Superior.
But, he brightened: “Candy’s good. Candy’s a really a good price here.”
Like Mrotek, I’m good with the candy (the Aussie- style licorice is particularly fresh this week) but wasn’t feeling so hot after a jar of artichoke hearts a couple of years ago.
“I’m sorry you had an unfortunate experience. I haven’t heard that,” said Davis, explaining the chain, which has signs assuring food is fresh, does perform quality control. A recent trip to local Dollar Trees finds all foods stamped within the “best used by” dates.
Some stores recently have added frozen foods, which led Johnson and his wife, Michelle, to quickly name the oddest item they’d seen.
“Frozen broccoli from China,” said Michelle, with Mark attempting to figure out the economics behind it, then giving up.
However it works, he said, “I’m grateful to have them. They have some items Walmart doesn’t have or Walmart can’t match.”
I agree, and if others won’t admit to shopping dollar stores, I will, because of what Davis calls “the hunt.” You never know what you’ll find, and it’s a way to sate your shopping fix.
Plus, if you buy five items at Walmart or Target, it’s $25. Buy five items at a dollar store and even if three turn out to be junk, you’ve easily gotten your money’s worth on the other two.
That goes for the best dish towels my wife says she ever got — including from chic-chic Williams-Sonoma. They got even better in her mind after I used them to wash the car, and the Dollar Tree had long run out of replacements.
There are some items you might want to invest more than a dollar in, however, like the pregnancy tests in the health and beauty aisle.
“I do believe we carry them,” Davis said without elaboration.
Anyone want to tell me if they work? It’s only a buck — or about $200,000, college education optional.
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.