Opinion: Cheap thrills and the death of dollar stores

The dollar store as we knew it is gone. Oh, it’s still there. I can see the helium balloons from the street—hugging the ceiling, beckoning me to enter. But don’t you fall for it. It’s not a dollar store anymore, it’s the Dollar and a Quarter Store, regardless of the store name. One chain considered the name 2 Below. That would give them the option of two more price increases without having to buy another new sign.

I am addicted to all dollar stores. But now with this price increase, maybe it’s time to break my habit. Years ago, when pay phones went from 10 cents to a quarter; that was the last phone booth I ever walked into, except to check the little coin return to see if anyone had left any change in it. Let me pause here while younger readers google what a phone booth is. By the way, for older folks, just so you know, the five-and-dime store has also raised their prices.

Several weeks ago, I was in a dollar store in my neighborhood, unaware this seismic shift in my budget was about to occur. I waited for the cashier to ring up my purchases, though I thought I knew exactly what the total would be. I kept track of how many purchases I was about to make, and I even know to how multiply 1 x 16.

“Wait, how could the total be $20.00? I only bought 16 items!”

“Everything is $1.25 now, Sir.”

“Even a can of okra?”

“Sir, if you really like okra, why not just spring for the extra 25 cents?”

“Because I hate okra. Everyone hates okra. I was buying it because it was a dollar. How about those helium balloons? How much are those?

“Everything is $1.25, sir.”

“Okay, I understand the increase with food, but why did balloons go up?”

“Because we put helium in them.”

Frustrated, I wandered around the store putting my willpower to the test. At a buck and a quarter, could I resist a half-gallon of generic cola, a set of three screwdrivers, sunglasses, or five pounds of dog food? Hey, we could get a dog someday.

I wondered if I should start a support group for people like me who are getting sucked into an increasingly more costly addiction. My support group would have six steps to recovery:

1. Admit you are powerless to pass up a dollar bag of ginger snaps.

2. Resist the notion that lower prices are a higher power.

3. Never question the price of goodness.

4. Share your story with others so they can be savers, as well.

5. Pray the $1.25 stores never go to $1.50.

6. Before buying on impulse, look deeply inside your shelf to be sure of what you really need.

As I was finishing this column, I saw a rumor online that the dollar store may revert to the old dollar price for some select items that are less popular.

My goal now is to find a really good okra cookbook.