By Margaretta wa Gacheru (20 July 2018 for Business Daily)
Some people go to Chicago specifically to visit the Art Institute to see its vast collection of Impressionist paintings. Others go to see the city’s spectacular skyline with all its myriad skyscrapers, including the gigantic Trump Towers. And still others go to Chicago to visit its illustrious universities, including Northwestern (with its Medill School of Journalism) and the University of Chicago (home of more Nobel prize winning scientists per square foot than anywhere else in the world).
I go to visit family and dear friends. But in the process of seeing them, I recently heard about The Dollar Tree (one of many brands of Dollar stores scattered across the US).
I had just spent $25 on a pair of magnifier reading glasses when I sat with a good friend who also used magnifiers on occasion. She pulled hers out and I admired them, complaining in the process about how I had just spent a bundle buying mind in Whole Foods, Jeff Bezos’s (of Amazon fame) recent acquisition. She then told me about the local dollar store where she got her magnifiers for literally one dollar!
Our glasses looked exactly alike. Only the price tag differed. So I confess, from that moment on, my addiction to the Dollar Tree took root. I initially went for the magnifiers, but then something happened. I am normally not a shopper, hate hanging out at dress shops and malls. But I further confess, I was raised by a ‘bargain hunter’. That was my mother who could never pass up a good bargain. She wasn’t hard core, meaning she didn’t clip coupons like some. But she liked to save money whenever she could, so I grew up appreciating the idea of frugality rather than spending lavishly.
Nonetheless, the change that came over me that day was stunning. The store itself was huge with many aisles, each labeled clearly so you didn’t have to think hard. All you had to do was open your mind and remember what you’d previously convinced yourself you really didn’t need to buy.
Like those sunglasses and the magnifiers that came in all sizes, colors and magnifying powers. But after that, with all those aisles to meander through, there was no telling what you rediscovered you really ‘needed’.
Like the ear phones (or buds) that you tended to break after a fortnight. They came neatly packaged, again in assorted colors and designs, and each costing only a dollar. There were assorted kitchen items, from utensils to dish towels to hot-pads and welcome mats. There were bath items of seemingly limitless variety, cosmetics good for the skin, eyes, hair, toes and nails. There were even aisles filled with canned foods, from tuna and sardines to chicken, turkey and spam. Drinks were also in abundance, only they were all soft drinks, no alcohol.
Nonetheless, one could easily get intoxicated if you had a few extra dollars to spend. There were a wide variety of school supplies, assorted cleaning soaps, liquids, lotions and pads. There was even a frozen food section where one could find pizza and what Americans call ‘TV dinners’, meals with scoops of corn and beans and beef or chicken wrapped in thin aluminum trays that you could stick in an oven for maybe half an hour, and then you’d have a meal and no dishes to wash. You’d just toss out the aluminum tray in the trash.
But then you have to ultimately ask yourself how did dollar stores come into being and how come everybody doesn’t save money by buying at these convenience stores that can save you a fortune if you stop before all your cash runs out.
First, I guess the dollar stores exist because of overproduction (the problem that capitalism was bound to have, according to Karl Marx who wrote over a century ago). The machinery is capable of producing so much, but the demand rarely can meet the supply provided by the manufacturers. So rather than destroy all those unsold goods, why not make something (rather than nothing) for all the trouble. Thus, the dollar store was born
But why don’t more people shop at dollar stores? Well, be assured, you will find all kinds of people shopping at The Dollar Tree. But there’s far more prestige and social status shopping at the Mall or on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile than at the Dollar Tree. Either way, if you have a little cash, Chicago can be a consumer’s paradise.