Making Do With Dollar Tree

All photos by Al Thumz Photography

Happy New Year! Thank you for being here. I will apologize in advance for the length of what follows. 

Between the economic impact resulting from restrictions imposed on businesses in reaction to COVID-19 as well as other factors — the term “starving writer” wasn’t pulled out of thin air — those of us who labor in the grammar mine might be having some problems making ends meet. What follows is a shopping hack called “Dollar Tree.”

I had never been in a Dollar Tree until early October 2020, having until that time succumbed to what was and is a certain negative cache attached to dollar stores in general.  To my surprise I learned last year that one was going to occupy the last remaining storefront in a retail center a few blocks from my home. My invitation to the grand opening in April 2020 was apparently lost in the mail and as a result I didn’t learn until a few weeks before Halloween that it had been open for months, yet another reminder that behavior resulting in getting fitted with an ankle monitor can really cramp one’s style.  

Dollar Tree has apparently been upping their game with new and larger stores located in (somewhat) better neighborhoods. The one near me has everything one could want or need, or a variation thereof. It has cleaning products,toys, school supplies,  canned and paper goods, health and beauty aids, and automotive and tool products. The newer stores have a card section, a “Snack Zone,”  and a refrigerated/frozen food case. The best part of Dollar Tree is that, unlike many stores with the word “dollar” in the name,  Dollar Tree means what it says. Everything in the store can be had for a dollar. Period. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Greeting cards are two for a dollar. There is also a shopping cart at the front of the store full of reduced-price — fifty cents — items that have been closed out. Everything else? One buck. This includes the Snack Zone where, in addition to chips, candy, and Little Debbie cakes, one can purchase fruits and vegetables (just kidding) (unless pork rinds count). The frozen food case features microwaveable breakfast, lunch, and dinner items as well as ice cream novelties (which of course can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner). 

Not everything in Dollar Tree is a terrific deal. A box of baking soda is a dollar, but one can buy that in a supermarket for almost half the price. Boxes of theater candy are pretty much a dollar everywhere (except, interestingly enough, at a theater, even before they all closed), as are Arizona teas. There are, however some interesting finds in a Dollar Tree. The stores also now seem to be just about everywhere so if you want to read this as you walk through the aisles of one near you, please do so. What follows is a random sampling and review of what you can find, and what you should get or avoid, at a newer Dollar Tree.

— Golden Crust Jamaican Style Puffshell sandwiches:

      The good: Everything. I’ve never seen these in a store outside of corner markets in New York until now.

       The bad: Absolutely nothing at all.

       Bottom line: Dollar Tree sells a few different varieties of these which, like Imperial Garden Egg Rolls (see below) all taste somewhat similar. That said, the Jerk Chicken is my favorite. Microwave it for two minutes and you can call it lunch or dinner, or both. Caveat: I don’t recommend eating one within twelve hours of a first date, second date, assignation, job interview. wedding, or any anniversary celebration before the tenth one. 


— Motor oil:

      The good: If your ex- asks you to top off their oil when they come over to pick up their stuff, this is what you want to use. 

       The bad: You don’t want to use motor oil that costs a dollar in your own auto unless you have a car like Fred Flintstone’s. 

        Bottom line: No.

— Zapp’s Potato Chips(!): 

      The good: My favorite potato chips! Voodoo Style! For a dollar! And I didn’t have to drive to Louisiana to get them!

       The bad: None!

       Bottom line: Life is good!

— Power steering fluid:

     See Motor oil, above.

— Colorform playsets(!!!):

      The good: COLORFORMS! For a buck! I didn’t even know Colorforms sets were still made. If Dollar Tree had a security guard, he would have been called to Aisle 3 when I initially found them. The discovery caused me to break out into my James Brown “goodfoot” dance. “YOWWW! HUNH! GOOD GAWD!”

       The bad: Colorforms doesn’t make a Bettie Page set, but that isn’t the fault of Dollar Tree. 

        Bottom line: Colorforms! What more can I say

— Folding Knife: 

      The good: It is very sharp and surprisingly smooth when opening and closing. 

       The bad: The blade is short.

        Bottom line: That isn’t a knife!

Now…THAT’S a knife!

— Copper Moon French Roast Coffee (Four K-cups):

      The good: Everything. 

       The bad: Nothing. 

       Bottom line: I’m kind of a coffee snob. I usually only drink the Cafe du Monde, Community Coffee, or Bustelos brands. This, however, was surprisingly good. It has a rich, smooth flavor and, if you melt a Hershey’s kiss in it, a deep chocolate profile.

— Healthy Chef Canola No-Stick Cooking Spray:

      The good: I wasted only one dollar on it.

       The bad: I wasted a whole dollar on it.

       Bottom line: It didn’t work at all. I actually thought about taking it back and getting a refund, but I would have looked like a cheap***. 

— Assured Men’s Shave Cream Regular:

      The good: It didn’t make my face fall off.

      The bad:  It didn’t make my face fall off.

       Bottom line: I intended to buy a five-ounce can of Barbesol but the 12 ounce can of Dollar Tree’s house brand for the same price was too good to resist. It has a nice scent to it but the lather is a little thin. It’s good enough, however, that I might buy it again. 

—”Tactical” flashlight:

     The good: It is actually bright enough to use for ordinary purposes.

      The bad:  It is not a tactical flashlight.      

 Bottom line: It fails to meet the definition of a tactical flashlight in durability, size, ability to be dual-purposed as a self-defense instrument, and luminosity.Throw it in the glove box of your car as a substitute for one that should already be in there. Batteries — 3 “AAA” — are not included. The batteries actually cost more than the flashlight, unless you buy the batteries at Dollar Tree.

— Imperial Garden Egg Rolls:

The good: They are big and they are very tasty. Get a jar of Chinese hot mustard (not sold at Dollar Tree) and you’ll be all set to bypass Uber Eats for the night. 

The bad: all of the flavors — chicken, pork, shrimp, and lobster — kind of taste the same.

Bottom line: These are not foodie quality but they get the job done. Dollar Tree could probably open stores near college campuses and turn a profit just on the sale of the egg rolls to drunken students on weekend nights or during exam week.

— Croc’s Refillable Butane Candle Lighters:

The good: The price.

The bad: None. 

Bottom line: I learned recently that it is perfectly legal to buy and possess a flamethrower in forty-nine states (Maryland is the only poody-pants). While I am waiting for mine I can practice with this lighter which is as good if not better than the ones that cost two dollars and up at other stores. It eschews the two-step operation that most use, utilizing instead the equivalent of a double-action trigger pull that you’ll find on your better .38 Special revolvers. I thought about buying a bunch of them (the lighters) as Christmas stocking stuffers for the neighborhood children but tamped down the urge.

— Handsaw:

The good: It’s great if you need one just to trim a couple of tree branches and don’t own a chainsaw.

The bad: At the price of one dollar it should not be considered as a long-term tool for you. It can, however, be replaced rather easily and inexpensively.

Bottom line: This is part of “Tool Bench,” Dollar Tree’s in-house tool line.  The irony is that the Dollar Tree where I purchased the saw is located in the former storefront of a Sears Hardware store. 

— Greeting cards:

The good: Hallmark actually makes a line of greeting cards branded “Heartline” (I wonder if I could collect a quick settlement for trademark infringement using a “confusion in the marketplace” argument?) that 1) are two for a dollar and 2) don’t have the price on the back. They’re nice, too. None of my children could tell the difference this Christmas.

The bad: Your in-laws might buy you the same card you bought them and thus will know how much you paid for it. 

Bottom line(s): 1) It actually costs more to mail the card than to buy it. 

2) Sending your ex- a birthday card from Dollar Tree is like saying “God bless you!” in Nashville or “Have a magical day!” at Disney World. 


The good: Cardboard boxes of obscure horror and thriller movies on DVD.

The bad: Cardboard boxes of obscure horror and thriller movies on DVD. 

Bottom line: I had not heard of most of the movies or of the actors in them. If you are a fan of schlock horror I would recommend going to Dollar Tree for no other reason than to pour over what they have for sale. The boxes are usually in the school supply and toy aisles.

I invite you to visit and walk around Dollar Tree to see what else they have. Heck, if you find yourself at the one at Sunbury Road in Westerville, email me. I’ll drive over and give you a personal tour. I am willing to wager that you cannot walk out without spending at least ten dollars while delighting in doing so.  A number of major brands, including Colorforms and Hallmark, seem to be offering products of a size that can be sold at the Dollar Tree price point. A Pepsi salesman was in the store during one of my (daily) visits and advised that the chain is one of their major clients.  I also read somewhere that the folks who run Dollar Tree want their customers to be surprised by what they find every time they walk in the store. Mission accomplished. I found within their book section a couple of mass market paperback collections of Elmore Leonard western short stories. They were priced at a dollar each. They were not marked down or remaindered or anything. They are part of a small but growing line of HarperCollins paperbacks targeted for Dollar Tree customers.

Oh. I also have to compliment the store associates. They actually seem glad to see customers walk in and are familiar with the inventory and where it is located. One of them was interested when I told her that I was going to post a blog about Dollar Tree. She has asked me a couple of weeks why she hasn’t seen it yet. Here it is (Hi, Holly!). Another laughs at my jokes on a regular basis and on cue (Hi, Maribeth!). They treat me so well that I may go there for my birthday this year. After all, party supplies such as tablecloths, hats, those packs of ever-important “thank you” notes, and Dolly Madison Zingers are just a dollar. I even put a visit to Dollar Tree into my WIP, once I was able to tear myself away from playing with my Jurassic World Colorform set long enough to get some writing done. The best part of all is that, even after you get that huge publishing advance and license your work for a Netflix project, you will still want to shop at Dollar Tree.

If so inclined, please tell us your favorite store(s), why they are your favorite, and whether you plan to insert them into your stories. Thanks again for being here. Be well.


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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

29 thoughts on “Making Do With Dollar Tree

  1. I can’t remember if the Dollar store nearest to me (12 miles) is a Dollar Tree or a Dollar General, or some other iteration of Dollar. I did, much to my surprise, find Hanukkah cards there, (2/$1) and I bought them, as they’re a rarity in this county.

    Right now, my favorite stores are those I can access from my PC at my desk.

    • First! That sounds like a Dollar Tree, Terry! I should note that Dollar Tree also runs a variable price chain named Family Dollar, which I stay out of since shopping there would involve higher math. The card price sounds like you were at a Dollar Tree.

      I feel you on shopping online. I would, however, be remiss if I did not point out that Dollar Tree has an online store with same low prices. Two problems: 1) it requires minimum quantity purchases per item and 2) the search engine feature on the site isn’t quite there yet.

      Happy New Year and thanks for stopping by, Terry.

    • Dollar General is the Starbucks of the South. One every quarter of a mile or so.

      A humor channel on YouTube, “It’s a Southern Thing,” did a funny conspiracy story about why there are so many.

      This is a great channel even if you weren’t “born by the Grace of God in the South.” Many of the commentors aren’t, but they get it. A second favorite which I can’t link because this blog puts the comment on moderating after 1 link is SLAW AND ORDER: SOUTHERN VITALS UNIT about the crime of washing your iron skillet. Gasp! The monsters!

      • Marilynn, we have Dollar General stores all over the place in Ohio as well, in addition to Family Dollar and Dollar Tree. D.G. is price variable as well.

        Re: washing your iron skillet…that is a huge no-no. You’re apparently supposed to clean it using salt or something. Someone recently asked me why I didn’t have an iron skillet and I told them, “I used to, but it kept sparking when I stuck it in the microwave.”

        Thanks, Marilynn!

        • Iron skillets…Mom used them I was a kid. I bought a set about 2 years ago and almost immediately gave them away. They were too heavy for me to use unless I felt like doing my weight-lifting workout while cooking dinner. And don’t get me started on the “cleaning” and care. Yikes!

  2. Joe, your review of Dollar Tree is more entertaining than the store itself!

    That’s my go-to source for greeting cards. Cracked up with your observation that postage to mail it costs more than the card.

    Gift bags: DT is the best. The bags are $4-5 each in “regular” stores. DT stocks all sizes, from small to gigantic (big enough for hefty-size stuffed toys).

    Remember five-and-dime stores when we were kids? DT is the 21st century equivalent.

    • Debbie, though I disagree with your statement about my comments being more entertaining than Dollar Tree, I thank you for that magnificent praise! Happy New Year!

  3. Great post, Joe. I’m in India and my caregiver does my shopping. The favorite shopping place here in Pune is the large bazaar. I told her not to go there during the pandemic but it seems the lure was too great. I asked where she got something and she was honest. I’m due to move in about five months so they can build us (the Society) a new building with some elevators so I can get up and down. I feel like Rapunzel with no long hair now. There are 43 steps up and down so I’m stuck. Dollar Tree sounds great. Maybe you should ask if they sometimes pay for ads. You deserve it. Happy New Year 2021 even though it started out really terrible for now. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • Thank you, Suzanne. I hope your living situation changes soon. 43 steps? Oh, The Humanity! Re paying for ads…what I am shooting for is being their commercial spokesman, though I don’t think they have commercials, since they don’t need them.

      Happy New Year to you, Suzanne!

  4. Good morning, Joe (or Al)

    Fantastic post. I laughed from the name of the photographer all the way to the end. And an aside, I believe Debbie asked you to include yourself in a picture sometime recently. When I saw your Paul Hogan moment (Now…that’s a knife), I had to point out that was you and not a professional model.

    Our local Dollar Tree sits right in front of Walmart. How appropriate. I’ve never been in there. I now intend to take a look.

    My favorite store is Lowe’s (even if they’ve run all the ma and pop shops out of business). I’d prefer locally owned paint, hardware, lumber stores, but they don’t exist in our small town. And Lowes is on my end of town, only three miles away. I like Lowes because it has so many different DIY supplies, and it’s fun to explore what’s new, as you did in Dollar Tree.

    The good: so many products

    The bad: the associates run the other way when you’re looking for help

    The bottom line: I don’t have a choice

    And the real bottom line: Have a great day and a great weekend!

    • Good morning, Steve! Thank you so much for your kind words which as always are much appreciated. I have had experiences similar to yours at Lowes. An Ace Hardware opened near me and they are the exact opposite. They almost seem compelled to help. The same is true with our locally owned Roush Hardware (plug!). Of course, our respective skills at home improvement projects are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Mine are limited to searching “Home Improvement — Westerville” and reading the reviews of prospective handymen.

      Hope you and Cindy have a great weekend and new year as well, Steve. Thanks!

  5. Joe, you crack me up! Too bad we don’t have video of your first trip to Dollar Tree. No wonder the staff loves you.

    My husband loves Dollar Tree. I go when he drags me with him, like when we need to buy a greeting card. Unlike your brand-spanky new store, ours is dingy with an “interesting” clientele. And we have no Snack Bar!

    • Thank you, Sue! Your Dollar Tree doesn’t have a Snack Zone?! Oh, The Humanity! Are you sure? I’ll see what I can do about that.

      A video of my discovery of the Colorforms sets would have probably gone viral.

      Happy New Year, Sue!

      • I neglected to bring up Colorforms. Were these REALLY the original, which were simply shapes. We were left to our imagination as to what to create. I felt that the “improvement” of themed sets, and pre-made designs weren’t as creative.

        • Terry, the Colorforms found there were, alas, those that licensed cartoons, movies, etc. as subject matters. Colorforms still makes the sets you are referring to (though modeled after the 1970 edition for around thirty dollars. They still make that great noise when you accidentally vacuum one up!

  6. Happy New Year, Joe! This was a fun *and* funny read, the best kind 🙂
    I haven’t been to any of our local Dollar Trees. In “the Before Times” my wife went to “the Dollar Store” a few times, for various things.

    Right now we buy we need online and have it delivered, or do curbside pickup. We have a wonderful little produce store, “185th Produce” (so-called because it’s on the corner of 185th Avenue and TV Hwy) where we get our fresh produce from, they stock everything from fresh local fruit and vegetables to local honeys, salsas etc. They do a great curbside pickup. You email them your order, then they call you back to confirm and you pay via card over the phone, drive over and park next to the store, and a masked employee comes out and brings out your order in a large cardboard box and places it in your trunk. No fuss, no muss.

    Here’s to 2021. Have a great Saturday!

    • Thank you, Dale, and Happy New Year to you. Delivery and curbside pickup are certainly the wave of the present. What goes around comes around…I can remember when department stores were primarily in downtown areas (before suburban malls) they offered local delivery within a day or two. It sounds like you have a good thing going and I hope you continue to enjoy it!

  7. Here’s a real secret for authors. I look around cautiously to make sure no one can see this.

    A famous romance writer was asked the ubiquitous question by an interviewer, “Where do you get your ideas?”

    Her answer, “A bin at Dollar Tree.”

  8. So glad I stopped by this morning, Joe! What hilarity…the now THIS is a knife! picture seriously made me snort my coffee out my nose.

    I love our Dollar Tree! Months ago, when we could do book tables in town, that’s the first place I shopped for swag. I still have some different colored “book bags” left…a package of 10 for $1.

    My favorite store? A small, hole-in-the-wall bookstore in my town called Inklings. In addition to books, they carry gifts, chocolate, and massive amounts of good will and superb customer service.

    And lastly, I have a question: What is a Colorform Set?

    Goodday to ya!

    • And a good day to you, Deb! Happy New Year. Glad to hear you are on the Dollar Tree Train.

      That knife is a SOG Bolo Machete. I keep it near the door in the hope that the guy who keeps calling me about the extended automobile warranty stops by for an in-person solicitation.

      A Colorform set consists of a bunch of peel-off plastic pieces in various shapes and colors that you can apply to a glossy playboard (included). It’s a very imaginative art toy. They did just fine with the original but branched out into different themed sets utilizing licensed products such as movies, cartoons, etc. which aren’t as good, in my opinion, as the original. Al’s final photo in my post contains an example of one of my efforts utilizing the Jurassic World set.

      You can find them (a scaled down version) at Dollar Tree on the school supplies aisle. Enjoy.

  9. As a divorced dad of two school-aged kids, I’m well versed in all manner of Dollar Stores. We child support payers do splurge once in awhile and get fancy at Walmart, though.

    Seriously, though, the Dollar Store has lots of cheapo toys that my kids liked when they were little. Odds and ends that made them happy. I can’t believe you found color forms—they were my favorite as a kid in the 80s.

  10. Thanks Philip, you’re a good man. Dollar Tree has a bunch of low-tech educational workbooks, games, and puzzles, as well as Matchbox cars for the kids to leave on the kitchen floor and cause late-night pratfalls. You can sometimes find those cars at a cheaper pricepoint elsewhere but they’re convenient to buy well when you’re already there.

    Colorforms were my favorite as a kid in the 1950s. As I kid in the 2020s they still are.

    Happy New Year, Philip.

  11. I’n with you, Joe. Dollar Tree – love it (esp for puzzles, quiz books, and toys/balls/games for my 3 grandsons…visit infrequently but load up every visit)
    Another favorite is CostCo. In these Covid-restricted times it’s a social outing and love their “stuff”.
    All the best to you!

    • Tom! Best to you as well and Happy New Year! I predict that in later years those young men will fondly remember those trips to Dollar Tree with Grandpa.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Happy New Year, Joe, and thanks for this hilarious addition to my day! I love the picture of you with the machete. I can’t wait to talk to that guy who keeps calling me about the urgent need to update my auto warranty so I can send him in your direction.

    We have a Christmas tradition which we started about a decade ago. My husband, son, and I go to the Dollar Tree store a few days before Christmas and each of us sneaks around buying a special gift for each of the other two. My very favorite was the one I bought for our son the first time we did this: it was a purple, plastic ballpoint pen with a little figure of Elvis on top. When you clicked Elvis, it played the melody from “Don’t Be Cruel.” Now where else could you find that?

    Best wishes for a wonderful year.

    • Thank you, Kay, and Happy 2021 to you and yours as well. I love your family Christmas tradition. You might find that Elvis pen at a gas station or somewhere else, but I would bet that you wouldn’t find it for a dollar. That’s a very cool gift and probably isn’t available any longer. Just for grins and giggles I checked just now and you would not believe all of the variations of Elvis pens there are!

      I will be waiting for our mutual friend, the auto warranty salesman. Thanks again, Kay.

  13. Happy New Year, Joe…although after the ten-day trial, I do believe I want a refund (as someone on FB said).
    We have one Dollar Tree, one Dollar World, and a gazillion Dollar Generals here in our little small town of 18,000. The Dollar Tree stays so busy, it’s hard to get checked out so I usually go to the Dollar Gen around the corner from me. All the stores are my go-to for cards. And the Dollar Tree has the best pickles!

  14. Thank you and Happy New Year to you, Patricia. It sounds as if your town has an embarrassment of riches! It somehow escaped my notice that Dollar Tree has pickles. Time to check it out…I will have my cold, wet nose pressed up against the doorglass when it opens at 9 AM! Thanks for the 411.

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