The Sublime Wonder of Dollar Store Brands


I write about the dollar store often. The dollar store blows my mind. Dollar stores are like chinese restaurants. They are all similar in appearance, seem to follow an unspoken protocol of selling the same products, and though they all have their own names, like a Chinese Restaurant you just call it the Dollar Store. The shelves sit as though they are arranged by a madman: morning dew candles, No-Flakes shampoos, and paper dragons all together, basking in a flourescent aura that’s brighter than the light of Jesus on one half of the store, and on the other half, dimmer than the vanity mirror in your bathroom, surviving on one working light bulb.

I am a child of the 80s when consumerism was rampant; many of today’s mega brands like Nike, Apple, or Nintendo were born in this era. Famous labels like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger came of age and boomed in the 1980s. The 90s brought the Clinton years—the economy was healthy, people had money, and you began to hear about a strange new epidemic—obesity. This is the world I grew up in. We didn’t do off-brands. We wore Nikes, not Keds, we drank Dr. Peppers, not Dr. Skippers, and we ate Lucky Charms, not Marshmallow Mateys.

There is one memory I have that seems to illuminate the importance of brands to me as a child. Starter Jackets. These were puffy, shiny sports jackets emblazoned with large team logos. But a blip in the world of fashion, Starter Jackets were a fad of the 90s, fueled by sensational stories of kids getting robbed for their Charlotte Hornets jackets.


I barely gave a shit about sports, having had one too many traumatic dodgeball experiences, but I needed a $150 jacket with a sport team on it. I needed it bad. Everyone had one and I gave my parents a well-argued presentation on the social handicaps of being the only kid without one. Either that or I begged. In the end however, I only made my painful school days worse by choosing a Starter no one would have stolen, the Baltimore Orioles. You gotta root for the home team.

With all this brand indoctrination I grew up with, the dollar store, with all its generic brands, has always felt like I’m visiting an indigenous peoples and learning their culture, their tools, their foods, their hair gel. Every product I see, I wonder if people ever actually buy it, use it, eat it, rub it in, or blow their nose in it. Just take that blinding blue hair gel above, the Sport Hold. If you were able to get past the whiff of horse glue coming out of the bottle, and actually ventured to run it through your hair, would it then congeal into a semi-solid mass on top of your head, never quite drying, always remaining a little moist?

Look, we’re all adults now and no one’s giggling that your gym clothes are Target’s Merona brand on the 1 Day Only sale that they have twice a week. You don’t have to wear brands. But there are still some things in this world of which that you must own a brand name, and one of them is perfume/cologne.

The point is to smell better, not worse. Everyone needs a nice cologne or perfume. It doesn’t matter if you’re an earth-centered new-age granola bar. You can’t wear that mall kiosk oil shit to a fancy dinner. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Wasilla, Alaska. You can’t wear that Shania Twain from the Rite Aid to the convention. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been drinking Kentucky Gentleman all day, you cannot try to cover it up with something the scent of musk ox. And no matter who you are, you must not wear this:


This is Jean Phillipe Paris’ version of Polo. It’s like they just took 3 upper-class sounding names and called it that. Actually, that’s exactly what they did. Jean Phillipe Paris. Say it aloud, it just sounds bad. Jean Phillipe Paris. One spray of this crap and you’d attract all the hornets in North America. JPP makes knock-offs of many brands, though I think “knock off” is too kind a word. Knock offs try harder than simply pouring rubbing alcohol into a green bottle and slapping a picture of a man and his horse on the front.


I dramatized it further by adding some shadows and sepia tone. Look how close their heads are. That horse is on top of that long-haired man. The more I stare at it, hypnotic in a way, I begin to question if the photo is even real. The heads are just too close. I think that long-haired man is superimposed next to the horse. In fact, that’s not even the man’s flowing hair. It’s the horse’s flowing mane.

Next up in my photojournal documentation of the dollar store is the food. What about these meat treats?


The first one, the beef patty — all I have to say is, that’s how you get mad cow disease. Now these pork rolls. What are pork rolls? Is that a real food? A real cut of meat? A roll of meat? I was so intrigued that I did some investigative work and learned that Case’s Pork Rolls are the original New Jersey ham. Ah, that explains everything.

Case’s has a nice non-domain website where you can mail order some vacuum-sealed pork rolls. Seriously, what a world we live in. You can buy canned meat that’s hermetically sealed and delivered to your door. Lasts forever too. A great treat at the end of the world. If Case’s wants to use that slogan, it would make my life complete.

Finally, I present to you…. macaroni salad.


Whenever people get food poisoning, the first thing blamed is always the macaroni salad. Stomach don’t feel right? Must have been the macaroni salad. Dora, age seven, cause: salmonella. Contents in stomach: macaroni salad.

This macaroni salad is guaranteed fresh by the dollar store, but is it a guarantee you’d place your money on? I wouldn’t. How long has it been sitting there, with those other foodstuffs? What is this? The gelled-foods section of the refrigerator? There’s a cup of peaches, maybe a…what is that pink crap, a Jello parfait? And then macaroni salad.

You ever ask yourself those philosophical questions–what kind of human being could kill a man? Hurt a puppy? I ask myself what kind of human being would purchase macaroni salad from the dollar store.


It did not even have an expiration date on the packaging.

2 thoughts on “The Sublime Wonder of Dollar Store Brands

  1. I just got back from the dollar store where, after some diligent searching and detective like inquiry, I found the perfect drainer for my kitchen sink. I love the dollar store. It is a cornucopia of things as you have described in such delightful detail. For me there is the added advantage that there is no thing I cannot afford. I feel like the kind of millionaire who never has to ask “how much?”

  2. I love the hair gell that you have a pic of. (the blue kind) and The dollar store near me stoped selling it and I need more. If you know where I can get some let me know. Ill buy bulk of it or individual. It dont matter.

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