cant watch television today without being bombarded with
commercials focusing on the diminishing value of a dollar. From
99¢ menus at your local fast food joint to 20 minutes of long
distance for a buck, the focus is on how rare it is these days
to find anything worth buying at that price. While many of us
have come to accept the loss of a single dollars purchasing
power in todays economy, a particular subset of our community
has adopted an altogether different opinion.
few weeks ago, an elite group of Anvilites descended on hapless
shoppers and employees at a Portland-area Dollar Tree, one of
a handful of stores popping up across the nation devoted to the
proposition that a dollar can still buy plenty. We went in with
only the roughest of agendas: to determine why people shop at
a store where everything is a dollar (yes, everything). We expected
to find refugees of todays lean economy, people forced
by circumstance to seek out the very cheapest prices as a means
of keeping their heads above water. What we actually found surprised
a two-hour period, we interviewed half a dozen shoppers and a
few employees. We quickly realized that many of these people
were a far cry from the low-income, white trash we expected to
find. Instead, we met a pilot, an up-market clerk, a mother,
a teacher, a hospital employee. We spoke with older folks, middle-aged
professionals, young urbanites. We met whites, blacks, Hispanics,
even a Ukrainian. Most just happened to in the neighborhood or
were at the mall across the street and dropped in for a look.
Others admitted to making the trip specifically for specific
items. Theyd priced these products at nearby stores and
were able to identify exactly how much they were saving.
real surprise came when we interviewed a woman who worked at
Pottery Barn and regularly visited "The Tree," as she
called it, to look for rare finds, the way one might at a flea
market or thrift store. Looks of astonishment ran across our
faces as she provided detailed accounts of the elaborate Christmas
gifts she created with Dollar Tree purchases, and how her co-workers
frequently accompanied her on special visits when rare finds,
or "scores," were to be had.
became clear was that the woman from "The Barn" was
representative of a breed of shopper we had not realized existed.
She and others like her visited Dollar Tree not for prices,
or bargains, but, strangely enough, for pure entertainment. Her
idea of an evening out involved a trip to the Dollar Tree with
her husband and a $20 bill. She reveled in the fact that her
homes Pottery Barn-powered décor included Dollar
Tree accoutrements. She and her friends had even developed their
own vernacular based on their frequent visits to "The Tree." It
was a revelation.
to say we learned that a great number of people found themselves
at the Dollar Tree more for the novelty and entertainment value
than for pure economic factors. It was refreshing to see that
visiting a dollar store was not evidence of our societys
inexorable economic collapse. It was, instead, just something
to do, like going to the movies, taking a walk, or surfing the
Internet, a simple, inexpensive pleasure. In that way, perhaps
it is well worth the price tag.
the Dollar Tree interview video footage >