Food.  Household goods.  Clothing.  Books.  Electronics.  You can find almost anything these days at so-called "dollar stores" - and everything will cost you a dollar - give or take.  And, just like the rest of the county, the Northland has a wide variety of these sort of stores to shop at.

With inflation on the rise, high prices, shortages, and changing shopping patterns - it appears that this might be the shining moment for these dollar stores as a growing number of them see increased foot traffic and register sales.

Early on during the pandemic, many smaller business had to close due to health and municipal restrictions.  That left major "big box" stores like Walmart to remain open to serve the needs of consumers.  However, now as the pandemic restrictions have eased up, sales numbers at dollar stores have surpassed even Walmart.

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An article in the Seattle Times describes the current landscape for consumers and merchants:

"Foot traffic at the largest such [dollar store] chain, Dollar General, is up 32% from pre-pandemic levels, far outpacing the 3% increase at Walmart, one of the few retail winners of last year, according to Pacer.ai, which analyzes shopping patterns using location data from 30 million devices."

That disparity on sales traffic volume numbers speaks to the way that American consumers have adjusted their usual shopping routines.

As prices for food and household items continues to increase, consumers look for ways to stretch the family further to obtain the same things they've always needed. Data suggests that inflation is up "5.4% from last year".  Couple that with "disproportionately high job losses among low-income workers [and that leaves] many of the most vulnerable Americans in even worse shape".   Additionally, as shortages plague many of the supply networks for stores, customers also find themselves forced to find alternative sources for the items that are on their list.

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The dollar store phenomenon is nothing new:

"Dollar stores, which sell any number of brand-name items, including snacks, toys, and holiday decor, have been proliferating for years....[T]he pandemic, though, ushered an influx of new shoppers - including many who had previously been able to buy in larger, more cost-efficient quantities at big-box chains.  But with smaller paychecks and rising prices, they sat it's no longer feasible to stock up elsewhere."

These changes largely brought on by the pandemic have changed the sterotypical demographic for a dollar store shopper.  Details shared by the Dollar General store show that "[i]ts newest customers tend to be younger, have higher incomes, and be more ethically diverse".

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Looking locally, there are eight stores that fit the dollar store category in the Northland:

  • Dollar Tree - 326 E Central Entrance, Duluth
  • Dollar Tree - 5115 Burning Tree Road, in the Burning Tree Plaza, Duluth
  • Dollar Tree - 215 N Central Avenue, in the Spirit Valley Mall,Duluth
  • Family Dollar - 902 Commonwealth Avenue, Gary-New Duluth
  • Family Dollar - 110 Belknap Street, in the Belknap Plaza, Superior
  • Dollar General - 216 Belknap Street, Superior
  • Dollar Tree - 3611 Tower Avenue, Superior
  • Dollar Tree - 1301 MN Highway 33 South, Cloquet

While many shoppers are successful finding good deals at dollar stores, there are detractors,  Some warn of the quality and the ingredients of the products there for sale.  Business Insider recently published their list of items that they recommended not buying at a dollar store.  Included on that list was:

  • Back to school supplies
  • Batteries
  • Canned goods
  • Electronics
  • Knives
  • Makeup, toiletries, and medicines
  • Pet food or treats
  • Plastic cooking utensils
  • Tools
  • Toys

However, even a cursory  look at this list shows it's lack of candor, as it generally reads as an inventory list of almost every item dollar stores stock.  Perhaps the better advice when it comes to shopping at dollar stores is to follow the general rule of thumb that says "you get what you pay for".  While it's sometimes prudent to save money on an item that you're not as particular about, but at other times it's worth the extra expense and investment into something designed for long term use.

Brian Killian

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