June 23, 1998
I live across the street
from a 99-cent store and have for over four years. I shop there generally
once a month. Those are my credentials.
First of all, 99-Cent stores
are a major U.S. distribution network for red Chinese products, many
of which are undoubtedly made by political prisoners, which is why theyíre
so damn cheap. That hasnít stopped me from buying these products on
a number of occasions, but I do feel a twinge of guilt when I do it.
I purchased a full-sized claw hammer that works perfectly well except
that the head has come loose. It was made by "Two-Axe Brand" with two
crossed axes as a logo, and has a warning sticker that reads, "Please
take on your proof eyeglasses and coork gloves when using." I have found
this advice invaluable.
I got some light bulbs there,
also from China, which are 130 volts instead of 120 volts, and have
different threads than ours that will not screw into any socket. You
can kind of force them in at an angle and theyíll even light up, but
the bulb wonít stay in. However, since I got four bulbs for 99 cents
I still feel like I got a good deal.
Iíve never attempted to return
anything to the 99-cent store, nor would I ever consider it. With their
nearly exclusive non-English speaking help Iím always surprised they
function as a business in America to begin with. They have one ATM swiper
for four registers, frequently causing traffic jams. However the parking
lot is always jammed, often blocking the street, and frequently with
expensive cars. No question about it, everybody likes to get a good
There are certain items that
I am no longer willing to pay more than 99 cents for under any circumstances:
batteries, tin foil, laundry soap, cleaning products, bath soap, shaving
cream, kitchen utensils. I make a monthly trip across the street and
stock up, filling a grocery bag for less than ten dollars. I know and
accept, though, that at least one item, possibly several, will be complete
Many products that end up
at the 99-cent stores are simply new products that have failed to sell
for one reason or another and now the manufacturer is happy to get anything
for them. Sometimes the product itself is fine, but the packaging somehow
went wrong. If a name manufacturer made a product and theyíve ended
up dumping it in the 99-cent store, you can just bet that thereís something
wrong with it.
For instance, I just bought
a bottle of Dow liquid cleanser. The cleanser works just fine, but the
bottle was particularly difficult to open. The second time I opened
it, the top broke off and shot across the room. I have a bottle of bathroom
grout cleaner that wonít spray or clean grout. I have two bottles of
all-purpose spray cleaners, one is called "Awesome," with the declaration,
"As seen on TV," and the other is "XCELL Simple Orange," with the header:
"100% Natural! Biodegradable! Non-Toxic!" Unhappily, neither pump bottle
will actually spray. When I push the button it foams up and leaks all
over my hand. Luckily, at least one of them is non-toxic.
I got four rolls of paper
towel for 99 cents, but there were no serrations and it couldnít be
torn without it looking like a wild animal had shredded it with their
teeth. These rolls of paper towel remained in my cupboard for years
as the final backup in case of gigantic spills.
I also got a sponge-mop there
that literally disintegrated the first time I used it. No piece of the
mop was truly connected to any other piece and the wooden handle was
completely rotten. As I extended it for the first time I nearly fell
on my face. This item was the single worst piece of crap Iíve encountered
at the 99-cent store.
Iím presently using "Rise
Super Foam" shaving cream that I purchased at the 99-cent store. No
matter how short a burst of shaving cream I squirt into my palm, itís
always at least five times too much. And itís so ridiculously foamy
that it almost doesnít function as shaving cream, sort of floating on
top of the skin and beard. It seems better suited to putting out chemical
I buy Lux bath soap there.
It think itís perfectly OK soap, it smells fine, it doesnít get too
mushy, it washes off cleanly, and I get four bars for 99 cents. However,
my main reason for using it is that it reminds me of Carson McCullerís
book, play and movie, "The Member of the Wedding," wherein Frankie,
the 12-year old lead character, tells Bernice, the black, one-eyed housekeeper,
that Luxembourg sounds beautiful. Bernice sighs, "It just puts me in
mind of soapy water."
I got several bars of nicely
packaged Yardley soaps in various fragrances. Sadly, after only one
use the fragrance goes away leaving nothing but a gooey, second-rate
bar of soap that smells like an industrial product.
I purchased a tube of Crest
brand toothpaste there that was manufactured in Chile, for 99 cents.
Somehow itís possible to manufacture toothpaste in Chile -- an 11-hour
flight away in another hemisphere -- ship it to America, wholesale it
for fifty cents and make money. Whereas a tube of Crest manufactured
here in America and sold here in America costs over three dollars. Unfortunately
for global economics the Chilean Crest smelled like shit and tasted
bad, too. One try and the whole tube went into the crapper. You might
rightly ask why I would put something that smelled like shit in my mouth
and I would have no good response. Research for this essay, yeah, thatís
I purchased an interesting
item that, I believe, had an honest-to-God chance, but didnít make it.
A sealed, disposable peppermill filled with peppercorns. It worked fine
and never needed refilling, thus giving you fresh ground pepper anytime
you wanted. But I guess most people just want their pepper ground for
them these days.
I have a little bottle of
instant coffee from the 99-cent store that tastes just awful. I keep
it in case of a nuclear war. I also have a bottle of salsa picante,
hecho en Mexico, thatís too hot for human consumption. And I have a
can of 97% fat free chunk white chicken that I havenít yet had the guts
to open. Cheap food products can be scary.
They also sell books there,
too. I picked up "Robinson Crusoe" and "White Fang," both "Complete
and unabridged" and published by Book Essentials Promotions, Inc. It
states on the top-right corner of the book, "$4.95 USA/$5.95 CAN," which
I would guess was their dream that went something like this: "We make
Ďem for 43-cents and then sell Ďem for five bucks. Weíll be rich!" The
reality of retailing for 99-cents is that you can just bet that they
never pay more than 50-cents for anything, ever. One can also find anticipated
bestsellers in hardcover that didnít quite become the bestseller the
publisher hoped for, such as a biography of the Menendez brothers, and
Faye Resnickís book about Nicole Brown and O.J. Simpson.
I have purchased my yearly
calendar at the 99-cent store for the past three years. For 1996 and
1997 I was able to get Impressionist calendars with beautiful reproductions
of Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse, etc. This year I was unable to get an
Impressionist calendar so I settled for "Scenic Wonders," colorful photographs
of pretty places. Whatís interesting is that all three calendars were
manufactured in Australia and have all the British, Australian, and
British Commonwealth holidays noted on them. For instance, some of the
little known holidays in May are: May 5th Ė National Teacherís
Day, May 6th Ė Ashura, May 14th Ė Lag BíOmer,
May 16th Ė Armed Forces Day, May 18th Ė Victoria
Day (Can.), and May 25th Ė Spring Bank Holiday (U.K.).
Recently, I have purchased
several pairs of 100% cotton socks that are a tad shorter than I expected,
although not short enough to be considered ankle socks. Nevertheless,
I think theyíre worth the money. If Iím wearing 99-cent socks I donít
think twice about running outside in my stocking feet.
The 99-cent store is not
the place to become fond of a certain product or manufacturer because
once theyíve sold out their stock they probably will never get anymore
Looking at the various failed
products in the 99-cent store often makes me feel sad. As Ambrose Bierce
once said, "The death of endeavor is the birth of disgust." There are
many failed, disgusted people running around whose seemingly great inventions
and revolutionary new products have ended up at the 99-cent store. The
bottom-line, no doubt, is that itís better to get fifty cents (wholesale)
for your item than to get nothing at all.