[This is my attempt to explain my decidedly ambivalent feelings towards the Dollar Store. SB SM]
by Stephen Morris
My eye was caught by a massive, antique steamer chest at the yard sale. It had a sign $15, marked down to $10, marked down to $5. This was a masterpiece with a gracefully arched top and drawers and compartments galore. Imagine the journeys this chest had made, the stories it could tell.
“Don’t be afraid to make an offer,” said the chest’s owner, noting my interest. Upon closer inspection, however, nearly every latch was broken or missing. Fabric was frayed and irreplaceable. Restoring this, I realized, could be a full-time job. I shook my head.
“Just take it,” he said, dropping any pretense of a sale, “Save me a trip to the dump.”
This magnificent chest wasn’t even worth a buck. Ditto used microwaves, computer monitors, and VCRs. You can’t even take these to the local thrift store any more. You pay to leave them at the landfill. Nothing is worth less than yesterday’s technology.
There’s a flip side to this story. Some people think of America as the land of plenty. I think of it as the land of plenty of cheap stuff. While many decry that a dollar won’t buy a hot dog, a cup of coffee, a shoeshine, or a Sunday paper, I am amazed by what you actually can buy for a buck.
The real value of greenbacks can be seen in the burgeoning “dollar stores” that have sprouted like invasive plants throughout Vermont. Here’s what a buck will get you:
Reading glasses: I gave up on my $350 prescription glasses with the titanium frames because, inevitably, one lens would fall out of the frame into the snow. Ever try to find one lens in the snow? You know how much a $350 pair of glasses missing one lens is worth? Less than a used microwave.
At the Dollar Store reading glasses are $1. My new vision strategy is to buy a strong set for reading and a weak set for working on the computer. At a buck a pop, I can pepper the house with glasses so that a usable pair is never more than an arm’s reach away.
The ones I like for the computer make me look like Buddy Holly, but aside from the fact that only one person out of ten knows who Buddy Holly is any more, what’s wrong with that? He wrote good songs, wore dorky glasses, and had the good sense to die young and leave a good corpse. “Iffa ya knew, Peggy Sue …”
The only flaw in my plan is that my dollar store glasses have an annoying tendency to explode while on my face. I’m looking at the monitor, I hear a pop, I move my head, and the frame and plastic lenses fall to my feet. I’ve tried–quite unsuccessfully–to repair them with assorted glues and tapes and have succeeded in only making myself feel incredibly stupid for spending hours not repairing $1 glasses.
You can buy eyeglass repair kits at the Dollar Store. There are several types and styles to choose from. These contain the tiny screws and widgets to repair $350 prescription glasses, but are useless on lost lenses or exploded $1 reading glasses.
The most useful things I’ve found at the Dollar Store are adjustable, plastic clamps. These things are unbelievable. And, you get two for a buck! They have self-adjusting pads, and a handle that ratchets the pads to any position. To be honest, it’s beyond my skills as a writer to describe these little wonders. They are the perfect tool for the jobs that nothing else can handle, such as glueing irregularly-shaped objects, or attaching things to curved, metal surfaces. When the job can’t be done, this is the tool you need.
Then, there are the micro-screwdriver sets. This was my stocking stuffer of choice this past Christmas– a set of TEN precision micro-screwdrivers happily ensconced in a plastic case, FOR A BUCK!. These are the moveable kinds of screwdrivers favored by jewelers, watch-repairmen, and fine craftspeople. You can operate these with one hand, without turning your wrist. Ten for a buck!
There are so many things you can do with these, such as … adjusting little things. I dunno. Everyone to whom I gave them loved them, especially when I mentioned the price. (I didn’t want to make people feel guilty that I had spent a small fortune at Brookstone.)
I also checked back, in reference to this article, to see if anyone had actually used their precision micro-screwdrivers. No one had. That’s what I call a perfect gift. These might sit unused in the desk drawer for years. And if they break the first time you use them, just shrug and say “What do you expect for a buck?”
I wrapped my screwdriver sets in wrapping paper from the Dollar Store. You get a year’s supply for a buck. My understanding is that we now ship scrap paper to China for recycling. This sounds rather “fuelish,” but apparently the Chinese are able to take what we throw away, transform it into decorative wrapping paper, ship it back across the Pacific and across the North American land mass, and offer it cheaply enough to the Dollar Store that they can sell it back to us and make a profit. I don’t understand how this is possible, but I don’t understand quantum physics, either.
There’s so much more at the Dollar Store … decorative bottles filled with colored liquid and preserved foods labeled “Do not eat this food” … CDs by unknown artists … assorted creams, emollients, and goos for smearing on yourself … shiny things, glittery things, gewgaws. It’s all there, and it’s yours for one picture of George Washington.
When I first moved to Vermont our town had a men’s clothing store, a sporting goods store, and a downtown hardware store that carried everything from fish hooks to fertilizer. Sure, they knew my name, and had a lot of helpful advice, but we’ve got the Dollar Store now. If I have a problem, I can fix it with my adjustable clamps or precision screwdrivers. Good thing, too, because my glasses just exploded.