When I was growing up, my brothers and I loved going to my father’s hometown of Columbia, Ky., to visit our grandmother and all our other relatives.
Being “city kids,” we were fascinated by the ambience of small-town life. My father’s family, the Walkers, had practically started the town, so any Walker offspring enjoyed a bit of celebrity status.
In a small town, celebrity status meant things like being recognized by the elderly, having a sentence or two written about your visit in the newspaper and getting a free cola at the fountain in the Meadow Hill Inn (which just happened to be owned by our cousin Bill Walker and wife Maxine).
When we visited grandmother Vevia and her sister, Clarice, there was one thing my brothers and I could always count on: lots of hugs and comments about how much we had grown. That and $9.
You see, my great aunt, or Auntie as we called her, always gave us $4, and my grandmother (never to be outdone by her younger sister) gave us $5.
Times have changed, I know, but at that time, $9 seemed like a fortune.
Once we had pocketed our money, the four of us headed straight for town.
The walk was also quite a novelty. There was no fear of strangers abducting us or cars running us over. People came out of their homes to wave to us, and those who didn’t know who we were no doubt went next door to ask.
Once in town, we went straight to Ben Franklin, the five-and-dime store on the square.
Of course this was the early 1970s, and there were few things sold for a dime, much less a nickel.
But still, we loved that store and always found things to spend every penny of that $9.
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of my purchases was always a notebook or journal.
I know the Ben Franklin is probably no longer there, and I am equally sure that most people head to their nearest super center to shop.
But there is one chain of stores that is at least somewhat similar to the five and dime of yesteryear — dollar stores.
I used to think dollar stores were places to take your kids when they had saved a little money or if they were due a treat, especially for people like us who have four children and were always pinching pennies.
For years, I barely glanced further than the toy aisle in these little stores, seemingly in every strip mall along with dry cleaners and nail salons.
But years ago, I baked a cake for one of my children’s favorite schoolteachers. I wanted to give her the cake, but I did not want her to have to worry about getting my cake container back to me.
My mother suggested the dollar store. I found the perfect plastic storage container and happily gave the cake and container to the teacher.
Needless to say, I wondered what else the dollar store might have to offer.
Today I make stopping at the dollar store part of my regular shopping run. Each and every time I am amazed at the bargains I find.
I was talking about this with a friend of mine, and she said, “Yes, but all dollar stores are not created equally.”
And she is right. Some seem to have tons of toys; some have more things for your home.
My suggestion? Check out several.
And remember, they are constantly getting new merchandise in, so just about every time you go, they have new items.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.