Thursday, November 14, 2002
Fremont Boulevard in Seaside is a hot destination for people who have a one dollar bill burning a hole in their pockets. The two-mile stretch of road, littered with fast-food restaurants, gas stations and beauty shops, also has an abundance of dollar stores-four of them, which is a lot, considering they carry the same stuff.
They all peddle baby skin care products that look like Johnson & Johnson but are actually Lander brand. (Never heard of it? One whole dollar says you''ve never heard of most of these labels.) All four devote at least one wall to toys. And they are very well stocked with transparent plastic piggy banks in pastel shades, and with the same variety of knock-off Tupperware.
But it would be a grave error to think that if you''ve been inside one dollar store you''ve been inside them all. The Weekly sent forth one reporter, sweatily clutching a $20 bill, to see how far it would go-and to compare and contrast the emporiums in question.
First, said reporter polled her colleagues and compiled a shopping list of things that were needed at the Weekly''s office: a fruit bowl; a hanging fruit basket; a vegetable peeler; one of those dish scrubbers with detergent in the handle; hand soap; a rear-view mirror for the editor (who is "not paranoid") so he can see who is sneaking up behind him; a clock; toys. And, for my office, a beaded curtain.
The treasure hunt began on the farthest end of Fremont, in Seaside, at the aptly named Plus 99¢ Store. This was the one that looked and smelled most like a Ben Franklin''s, which is to say fairly well organized and slightly medicinal. Long rows of metal shelving held all manner of 99-cent objects-placemats, socks, cups, telephone cords, luggage. (To be fair, not everything was 99 cents. Some items were $1.29, some $1.49, and some big-ticket items, like the luggage, were well over $10.) This is where a nested wire fruit basket, a Jesus Christ clock, a green plastic piggy bank and a dish scrubber were had. Feeling it imprudent to peak too early in the shopping spree, this reporter left it at that and continued up the street to the new, slick chain-owned dollar store, Dollar Tree.
It''s easy to tell that Dollar Tree is a corporate outfit because it has a catchy slogan: "Where Everything''s $1." In fact, Dollar Tree is so corporate that it''s traded on NASDAQ, operates 2,179 stores in 38 states and posted sales of $1.9 billion in 2001.
Talk about a clean, well-lighted place to blow a buck: music played (Stevie Nicks); one corner was devoted to seasonal items (many, many Christmas stockings the first week in November), and the shelves were positively laden with merchandise.
A teacher''s aide was there, snatching up copious amounts of smiley-face stickers. Slightly uncomfortable with the corporate vibe-the Weekly prefers buying local-I picked up a very nice vegetable peeler with a scrubbing feature and ducked out.
How is the neighboring 99¢ And Up supposed to compete with Dollar Tree? This is the humblest of the Fremont dollar stores. The name, with its cannot-tell-a-lie "And Up," suggests a touching naivete. At 99¢ And Up I bought a nice little yellow dustpan for myself, a big bottle of hand soap for the office, a set of play money and a package of creepy rubber forest animals (mostly snakes and lizards) for the art director, who had requested rats.
Sadly, there was no beaded curtain, though I briefly contemplated lugging back a framed print of Raphael''s two little bored angels. I was also tempted by a pair of gold slippers but resisted.
I like 99¢ And Up. The proprietors eschew fancy marketing tricks and pretty much just cram everything that won''t fit on the shelves into cardboard boxes. But I must report that the dustpan I purchased there is seriously flawed. Since its lip sits a millimeter or two off the ground, it is impossible to actually sweep dust into the pan. So, while a bargain, the dustpan was not ultimately a good purchase.
And then I arrived at Moon''s Gift Shop. Moon''s specializes in clocks and lamps. But Moon''s offers so much more: pinatas, toys, shampoo, lotion, enchilada sauce, knives, and a dazzling array of tchotchkes. The discriminating collector with a lot of extra shelf space can proudly decorate his or her home with ceramic waltzing turtles, angels, and cute miniature Persian kittens from Moon''s-not to mention the most pornographic decorative fruit one should ever hope to find (we will never again look at halved pears and cantaloupes in quite the same way). I got the bicycle mirror, a fruit bowl, a lute-strumming angel for the music editor and some of that forbidden fruit. Among the vast offerings of the toy selection, I found a package of dinosaurs and cavemen and yet another collection of creepy animals for the general enjoyment of the folks at the office.
The beaded curtain eluded me to the last. Still, I must say that the Dollar Store Shopping Spree was quite a success. I had loads of stuff, all cheap, and as long as I didn''t think about the people in the sweatshops toiling over the polyurethane injector and molds and what not, I got to feel pretty good. I got a lot of stuff for that $20. And nothing beats a bargain.