Monday, August 11, 2008

or more

Shopping at a 99¢ Store should be easy, even for the mathematically illiterate. At a 99¢ Store, the number of items in your basket always equals the number of dollars you need. There are no price tags or sale stickers. A bottle of dishwashing detergent, two boxes of Oreos, a roll of gift wrap, and some toothpaste can all be purchased together with a $5 bill. If you want to know how much something costs, you ask the kid behind the counter who then rolls his eyes and wonders if you're making fun of him.

"ninety nine cents," he says, looking down at the one boring button on his cash register.

Unfortunately, the ease of the 99¢ Store changed when crude oil magically raised the price of everything.

An example of this change, my neighborhood 99¢ Store recently introduced both a new name and a new marketing strategy. One day the owner masking-taped the words or more under each of his 99¢ signs, giving every off-brand item in the store a raise and a promotion. Now, instead of being an encouragement, the posters serve as a warning. "Be careful," they say. "Everything here is at least a dollar."

Despite the change, the 99¢ or more Store's aisles remain full of shoppers turned archeologists, each digging through shelves packed full of beanie babies and dental floss, all searching for the elusive good deal. I don't know why they try so hard. The signs overhead are perfectly clear. Everything in the store is 99¢ or more, just like everywhere else.

What has the 99¢ or more Store taught my neighborhood? Is it a lesson in inflation or an encouragement to advertise honestly? Maybe. Mostly, though, I think the 99¢ or more Store shows that you shouldn't assign yourself a label that you can't live up to.

But if you do, don't worry. You're probably worth more than you thought.