At ten years old, my grandson is a seasoned bargain hunter. But Jackson didn’t get it from me. Even when my daughter was little and my budget littler, I never got into the whole coupon cutting, bargain hunting competition that my contemporaries enjoyed. When dollar stores starting cropping up in strip malls in my area, I had no interest. Target, sure. Walmart, on a rare occasion, but the Dollar Store? Sounded like another scam whipped up to get me to spend my hard earned Social Security check.
The last time I made the two-hour drive to visit, Jackson insisted we take a trip to the neighborhood Dollar Saver. I wrestled a cart loose from the queue and followed him in. The first thing he spotted was a shelf filled with miniature stuffed teddy bears in a variety of colors. He grabbed a red one from the display and asked if he could get it for his mom for Valentine’s Day.
“How sweet,” I said, pulling my $9.99 CVS readers from my purse, inspecting the tag affixed to the little critter’s paw. “Let Nanny see how much it costs.”
“It costs one dollar,” he said, wrenching it from my grip.
“I doubt it, Honey.” How cute. So naïve. I remembered accompanying my mom to the five-and-dime store back in the day. It didn’t take long to learn that the establishment name had little to do with the cost of merchandise. Granny’s not going to be fooled by that ploy again.
I picked up a pink teddy that had tumbled to the floor. Materials, washing instructions (wipe with damp cloth, DO NOT DRY CLEAN) and “Made in Uruguay.” But no price.
“Nanny, it’s the dollar store. It costs one dollar.”
I decided to humor him. “OK, Sweetie. Drop it in the basket.” We’ll share a teachable moment at the register when the cuddly cub gets rung up.
Next, he headed straight for the toy aisle, grabbed a bag of green miniature soldiers and dropped it in the cart. I plucked it out and searched for a price tag. Missing again. Boy, what a racket. No price tags. You’re in the dark until you get to checkout.
I pulled my phone out of my purse and checked the time.“OK, Is that it?” I said, anxious to fuel up at the Starbucks across the parking lot. “You ready to go?”
The tween future tycoon looked up from surveying the toy aisle merchandise. “Mom usually looks around for awhile. She always finds stuff to buy.”
“No price tags on anything. That really bugs me. Let’s go.”
Mr. Penny-pincher poked my arm and pointed to a label on the edge of the shelf. The tattered sticker repeated its message along the length of the shelf: $$$EVERYTHING’S ONE DOLLAR$$$
He rolled his eyes. “Now do you believe me?”
I stumbled backwards, nearly knocking over a rack of hula hoops. Crap! It really is a dollar store.
“OK, Buddy. You’ve got my attention. Where to next?”
“Well, Mom likes to check out the…”
“Never mind. Did I spy greeting cards when we came in?” The wheels on my cart screeched as I U-turned toward the main corridor. “There,” I said, pointing my chariot toward the prize. Sure, there’s a mini row of 99¢ cards at CVS. But this is an entire aisle.
I browsed the categories – birthday, get well, new house. Then a sign sticking up above the rack caught my eye. TWO for $1.00 Holy Moly. A veritable gold mine in the California foothills. I loaded my cart with enough birthday and get well cards to last a decade or two. I threw in a couple of sympathy cards for good measure. Hey, everybody’s got to go sometime.
At the end of the aisle I spotted a wall of colorful gift bags. A real pet peeve. Half the time, they cost as much as the gift. Not here. ONE DOLLAR. Even the really big ones. And bows. Fluffy, curly bows. A dollar EACH. I snagged an armful and added them to my rapidly filling cart.
Why hasn’t anyone told me about this place? I feel like a kid in a candy store. Whoa. Candy. They must have candy. FOR A DOLLAR.
I found Jackson where I left him, rummaging through the toys, his arms loaded with puzzles, games, and every master-blaster water pistol they stocked. He dumped his haul into my basket.
“Hey, Kiddo. Where’s the candy aisle?”
My companion’s eyes widened. A smile lit his freckled face. “Follow me,” he said, with a toss of his Charlie Brown shaped head. By the time we finished picking out our favorites, we had enough sweet treats to choke the entire Peanuts gang.
I scooted down the plastics aisle where I emptied the faux Tupperware shelf. Like a contestant on the ’60s TV show, Supermarket Sweep, I zigzagged up and down the aisles where I found storage bags in every size, shampoo, conditioner, cleaning products, bungee cords, a bamboo wind chime, and a pound cake.
As my finders frenzy subsided, I paused to evaluate the products in the remaining aisles. There were a few items I passed up. Skipped the home pregnancy tests…for so many reasons. Fell in love with the the puppy sweater collection, then remembered I don’t have a dog. I did grab a couple of ink pens adorned with fluffy pom-poms on the ends, because…ONE DOLLAR.
Exhausted from my crazed bargain hunting, I turned out of the last aisle to head for the check stand. Just then, the clouds parted and a choir of angels sang out from above. There before me stood the display of eye glasses. That’s right. READERS in every strength from, “I can still make it out if I squint,” to “Hand me that %&$# magnifying glass.” And not flimsy, nerdy styles. Cool patterns, colors and shapes. One. Dollar. A. Pair. I plucked one for every drawer in the house, and to match every outfit in my wardrobe. I tossed in a few extra to leave at Kristen’s house for my next visit.
We finally got to the checkout line. Remember that teachable moment I planned? Well, guess who got the lesson?
“See, Nanny,” Jackson said, a mischievous look in his eye. “Now you know where I spend my birthday money.”