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Dollar Dayz: The Evolution Of Consumerism
Money does, in fact, grow on trees

by Kent Lewis and Greg Coyle


You can’t 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 dollar’s purchasing power in today’s economy, a particular subset of our community has adopted an altogether different opinion.

A 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 today’s 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 us.

Over 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. They’d priced these products at nearby stores and were able to identify exactly how much they were saving.

The 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.

What 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 home’s 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.

Suffice 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 society’s 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.

Watch the Dollar Tree interview video footage >