Five and Ten Cent Stores

Here’s an expression that is not in use since the late 1960’s- “The Five and Ten Cent Store”. That’s where you buy items theoretically for as low as a nickel or dime. It has been replaced in today’s world by such emporiums as KMart, Walmart and Target on a much grander scale as well as the dollar store on a smaller scale.

The five and ten cent stores were a kid’s dream. There were two in the Austin neighborhood on the west side of Chicago for much of the 1960’s. On Madison Street on its north side half way down from the corner at Central was Robert Krinn. I’d walk in there clutching a dollar and come out with something exciting even if it was for short term enjoyment.

I imagine that the store was laid out exactly as it had been back in the 1940’s. The floor was made up of wooden slats so that the owner and his staff could hear your every movement. There must have been thirty tables laid out with all types of curios from toys to very inexpensive ladies accessories. The display area was one large room with no hidden or divided off sections.

The store personnel did not trust anyone, especially the kids. They presumed everyone had sticky fingers. Even when you put the money down at the cash register area and paid for your goods, you still didn’t receive a smile.

I put up with the harsh treatment because I knew I could expect to find a new supply of toy plastic army men. The World War Two soldiers were die-cast in green and the Old West US Cavalry in blue. Each had detachable hats or helmets as well as guns and rifles. With this slew of equipment, I would re-enact many a movie I watched on television.

Two blocks east on the south side of the street, just up from the corner at Lotus was Lady Jenn. It was run by an older lady who had that Wizard of Oz Wicked Witch of the East look on her face.

One time she accused me of pilfering. Uncle Henry had given me money while visiting and I decided to ride my bike to Jenn rather than Krinn. I took a while walking through the aisles looking for that special inexpensive toy. The witch suspected that I was casing the joint waiting for her to make a momentary look the wrong way while I grabbed an item. While I was busy staring at one item I had in hand, she pounced on me and threw me out of the store. I went home and told my mother and Uncle Henry who was still hanging around. He took me back there and, being short and weighing over 250 pounds and looking like a double for Curly of the Three Stooges, he threatened to sit on her. Needless to say, my days shopping at Lady Jenn came to an abrupt end.

Despite its name, items at a dollar store are mostly priced between one and ten dollars. Its charm and attraction in going there as opposed to a larger chain store is knowing that even higher priced items will be sold at a dramatic savings to the consumer. Usually this is because the store owner is able to get special deals on closeouts that he or she can pass along to the public. The better known chains don’t want to get involved with closeouts because it is too often identified with inferior quality, older technology or damaged goods. The visitor at a dollar store pretty much knows he or she may be buying lesser quality but at a welcome price.

How does today’s dollar store match up for bargain hunters compared to the five and ten cent store? Let’s do a little math. One dollar is twenty times a nickel, right? Thus, the low end of purchasing power since the mid 1960’s has been affected by inflation to the tune of twenty times its earlier value.

In 1965, a new economy sedan car cost in the neighborhood of $2500, a new townhouse with three bedrooms and two bathrooms about $26,000 and a gallon of gas 30 cents. A postage stamp was only five cents.

Today, a three bedroom, two bathroom house in the Chicago area goes for more than ten times as much. A similar size car goes for about seven times as much and a gallon of gas at least ten times as much. Hmm… My arithmetic seems to suggest that dollar store basic offerings are pretty much priced within the inflation ratio. Now if we can only feel that we have ten times the buying power we had back then.

To this day, when somebody asks me if I am looking to nickel and dime them I think of running home to ask Uncle Henry to do some sitting.

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