Monday, May 27, 2024

What's Bueno at the 99¢ Only Store! (My Trip to Dallas, TX)

Last December, I had the opportunity to travel to Texas for the first time as part of my best friend's bachelor trip. I had an amazing time, and managed to check off a number of bucket list items while I was there. My bucket list probably doesn't look anything like the average person's bucket list, but given we're all retail fans here, maybe you guys can relate. One item was to visit Half Price Books -- which I have only subsequent to this visit learned also exists in Atlanta, a city I've visited countless times, with at least two locations. Oh well, I had more fun experiencing the company in its home state, anyway. Another item was to visit the 99¢ Only Store -- a California-based chain that y'all may or may not have heard of, but which I am familiar with from the inimitable Ted Parsnips blog. So, in the spirit of that blog being inimitable, I am of course going to imitate it, with my own edition of What's Bueno at the 99¢ Only Store! (With apologies to Ted and his, what, six readers)

I visited the location at 13444 Preston Road in Dallas, right around sunset on December 2, 2023. The exterior has a bit of a resemblance to a 1990s Office Depot mirrored facade, except more like the dollar store version of it -- which, hey, works out perfectly!

Let's head inside to see a sampling of items what was bueno! 

"The 99" Big Rig!

It seems very common for stores to have toy eighteen-wheelers of their own brand. I have a big one from Fred's and a Hot Wheels one from Target... as a kid I had the Wally Hauler from Walmart (as produced by Mattel for the movie Cars)... and I even have a really nice, legit metal one for Jitney Jungle (not the one from that exact listing though!). The 99¢ Only Store is no exception, with this neatly illustrated pink number bearing the chain's current name and logo, "The 99." You see, right around the late 2000s recession, the 99¢ Only Store increased its prices for the first time in history, from 99¢ only to 99.99¢ -- the same way gas stations price gallons with an extra 9/10ths of a cent; essentially rendering product prices as one whole dollar. Since that time, further price increases have been introduced on various items throughout the store, and -- in an effort to more accurately reflect its pricing base (looking at you, "Dollar" Tree!) -- the company changed the name of its stores from "99¢ Only" to "The 99," even though storefronts don't really reflect this change all that well or consistently.

According to the Wikipedia article I obtained all of this information from (only the most reputable and reliable of sources for my readers!), not too long before my visit, in October 2023 it was announced that the company may soon be seeking a bankruptcy filing -- news which, per the Google, appears to be even more imminent as of the date of this writing, with a filing expected as early as April 2024 (aka tomorrow, as I sit here typing) and perhaps even a liquidation to follow. Sad news for sure, and I'm glad I had the chance to visit when I did! [EDIT: That news didn't take long at all... on Friday, April 5, the bankruptcy and liquidation of all 371 stores was announced. Darn.]

I made sure to purchase this toy truck, to help them out. I'm very altruistic like that.

Although it is a bit of a rip-off that the outer box says the trucks are 99.99¢ while the one specifically done up in The 99 branding was marked $1.99.99. 

Anthropomorphic Produce!

These wacky fruits and veggies look like they belong on a sitcom, don't they? I'm sure you all agree. What a cast of characters. It's also lovely how all of their feet are smaller versions of their full bodies. The potato literally has pota-toes! Get it? Ha ha ha, these jokes write themselves, folks.

It's too bad they are all imprisoned in those plastic cubes, forever frozen in time, punished for escaping Western Beef Supermarket.

Crayola Headphones!

A quick Google search shows that these headphones do in fact come in multiple colorways, and that $7.99(.99) actually isn't a terrible price for them. What's more concerning is that these Crayola headphones imply the existence of even lower quality Rose Art headphones. (Those, presumably, would only come with AM radio as compared to Crayola's FM.)

Tempered Glass Screen Protectors!

Ah, screen protectors for outdated-model electronic devices, one of the hallmarks of dollar stores (or so it seems, anyway). For my college graduation present several years ago, I received a 7th-gen iPod Touch, the newest and final iteration of the iPod. Longtime readers (all six of you -- or heck, even fewer than six -- I'll go crawl in a hole now) surely know by now that I am a fan of physical media, and own all kinds of CDs, which, as a family, we import into iTunes and load onto our iPods. (Hence my excitement for visiting Half Price Books!) The iPod 7 featured the highest storage capacity of the entire product line at 256gb, higher even than the classic, OG iPods with the scroll wheel, which is what my parents have connected to a speaker system throughout their house. For a variety of reasons, we never got the iPod up and running until August of 2023, and now I am very very happy to have it all loaded and working properly. The only thing it's missing is a screen protector... which is surprisingly very hard to come by. Alas, it would seem that even that device is too old now by The 99's standards, given that all of the screen protectors they had on hand were mostly for newer Apple products. I guess I'd need to find a Kmart to locate the screen protector I'm after.

Oh Wowww!

The enthusiasm died off towards the end there. Either that, or it was being delivered sarcastically from the start. I like that theory because it plays well with the boastful claim of LA's Totally Awesome Cleaner on the right. (With bleach!)

Emoji face binder clips!

This one was actually a bit disappointing given I had just recently bought some similarly designed binder clips from HomeGoods, at what most certainly was a significantly higher price point. Unfortunately, the joke is on me either way, since I'd never feel comfortable using these, lest they get lost or stolen at my workplace. To protect my purchase, I must never even open the box, heroically leaving them to rot untouched in a desk drawer in my cubicle. (Cue Creed.)

InstaHang Rotating Shelf!


Instant Shelf! 

TV As Seen On! 


Charmin Essentials Mega Roll!

Only recently did I learn that the Charmin bears actually come in different colors for different products. The red versions are for Ultra Strong, and the blue versions are for Ultra Soft. The brown versions, seen here, are just the basic versions of the Charmin bears. What's odd is that it appears to always be the same family, just different colorations. I'm assuming, of course, that this is all building up to the eventual, inevitable full-length feature film exploring the Charmin multiverse.

Holiday Duckies!

Another of my closest friends (who was not on this bachelor trip, but who does also work at the office with us) owns a Jeep, and -- as I learned shortly after he purchased his Jeep -- Jeep owners have a thing where they collect rubber duckies for placement on their dashboard. You may also walk out to your Jeep in the parking lot one day and find a random duck placed on the hood by a fellow Jeep owner as an act of kindness. This trend is fascinating to me, so of course, whenever I see a rubber duck now, I have to buy one for his collection. Alas, the snowman ducky I bought from the 99¢ Only Store was too big to fit on his dash, but it's the thought that counts. (I went with the snowman because it was the least creepy looking of all the options available here. Seriously, that reindeer ducky is about to commit a crime.)

Side note: one of my coworkers informed me that there is now a new, similar thing going on between Subaru owners, called "Moo Moo Subaru," involving little rubber cows. I have yet to find a cow placed on my Subaru, but if that ever happens you best believe I'll be over the moooooo-n.

Ready Cut Spaghetti!

Despite a half-Italian heritage, I like to cut my spaghetti with a knife when eating it, rather than twirling it with a spoon and slurping it up. (If this is a disgrace to you, I apologize.) So, in some ways, I can understand the sentiment behind boxed-up "ready cut spaghetti." However: as with things like pot-ready spaghetti or pre-cooked lasagna, I'm certain that the extra work on the manufacturer's side results in increased costs on the consumer's end. Are those costs really worth the small extra effort it would take to cut your dang pasta after you cook it? And worse: these noodles have holes in them! That's not spaghetti, that's just Kraft macaroni!!

The serving suggestion, dry noodles with a sprig of green and one-half of a grape tomato, is also pretty criminal. Especially since I imagine it's even more difficult to find a store that sells ready cut grape tomatoes.

Four-Pack Cool Whip!

I can't say I've ever seen a four-pack of Cool Whip for sale before. This one boggled my mind a little bit, since typically in dollar stores you'll find smaller packages for higher unit prices, not bulk products which allow for a cost savings. Even more interesting, if that price tag on the shelf is correct, is that even the regular Cool Whip tubs were going for 99.99¢ -- about $1 cheaper than Walmart. I'd be especially curious to know how much the four-pack was going for. And now I really want some dang Cool Whip.

Miniature Chips!

When I first encountered these mini versions of Doritos, Cheetos, and Sun Chips at Target, housed in the same packaging as Pringles, I bought a couple of tubes, and in fact the Sun Chips tube was my snack for the car trip to Dallas (a seven-hour drive from Hernando, following Thanksgiving. Yes, I ate the whole tube). I was surprised to see such a large selection of them at a dollar store, thinking they must already be on their way out (a la the "Red, White & Blue Crunch" cereal I saw further down the same aisle... half a year after its holiday had passed). These Minis definitely appear to still be in active production, though, so maybe they are just intended to become a new dollar store staple. (Like Lay's Stax on the shelf above, which I literally only ever see inside dollar stores.)

3-D M&M's Cup Set!

I'm not certain this picture fully captures the three-dimensional effect of the cups, but I tried my best. This is one of those products that I can easily understand why it ended up at a dollar store, because really, who wants a 3D cup?! The pattern looks cool and all, but if you ever want it not to be fuzzy when you're looking at it, you're going to have to set it down, get your nearest pair of 3D glasses, and just stare at them. Because when you bring the cup toward your face to take a sip -- and the designers may have overlooked this part -- it's not like you're going to actually be able to see the dang cup...!

Unless it's three-dimensional on the inside too... which, you know, surely opens up a whole 'nother can of worms.

Cans of worms, by the way, were on Aisle 7.

Random interior picture!

I was walking around the store long enough, I figured I might as well actually try and photograph at least one of the store's wall graphics [industry term]. This one, in an attempt to notify customers of the store's hours of operation, proclaims that 99¢ Only is "open 9 days a week." However, as you and I both know, well, that claim is pretty preposterous, considering, as The Beatles educated us way back in the 1960s, there are only, in fact, eight days a week. Silly 99¢ Only Stores! That's a little bit of marketing humor right there.

Global Warming Eraser!

I definitely saved my best find in the store for last -- this is peak 99¢ Only Stores material right here. The "Global Warming Eraser" is a "giant polar bear eraser," with the polar bear figure standing atop a block of ice. The manufacturer's slogan claims "the fun starts here!" as it warns consumers to "be precise & save the ice" -- "ice 'melts' as you use the eraser." The copy on the back of the box takes the cake, so I'll just let it speak for itself:

Do you or anyone you know sometimes forget about global warming? Well be reminded everyday with this global warming eraser! Infact everyone around seeing you use this eraser will also be reminded!

Is it 50 years? 20 years? maybe even 1 year until the worlds end, who knows! With Global Warming Erasers, it's a question you'll never forget!


I did not actually purchase a Global Warming Eraser, sadly, but I did do the next best thing... left it there for you. I hope y'all enjoyed seeing all those random items, and thanks for indulging me as I (hopefully lovingly!) parodied the Ted Parsnips blog!

For the rest of this post, I thought I'd briefly share pictures and stories from the rest of my Dallas adventures. When I drove in on November 30th, I was one of the last people to arrive; everyone else had gone to eat at In-N-Out Burger earlier in the day, so the next day, when most of them had gone out to the world's largest casino (across the state line in Oklahoma), I went to In-N-Out by myself to see what it was all-a-bout. I ordered a Double Double and thought it was pretty good; tasty, for sure, but in my opinion still not better than, say, Freddy's. So I can understand some of the hype, but for my personal preference, there are better options out there.

The main event of the bachelor trip was the Cowboys/Seahawks NFL game that week, which was fun to attend (and AT&T Stadium is crazy huge!). The Cowboys won, and while my friend was actually pulling for the Seahawks, I think he still had a great time! As for the rest of the trip, though, as you guys know I'm not really a sports fan -- or a gambler, or a drinker, or a fan of large groups in general -- so I hung out with the rest of the guys some when we were all at the Airbnb, but otherwise, I went out and explored on my own. And I had the most awesome time of it. Seriously -- I had never been to Texas before, so that in and of itself was exciting; but I also realized that I had just never been *anywhere* before on a road trip solely by myself, with the freedom to drive around randomly and stop anyplace I wanted. It was very liberating, and I am extremely grateful and lucky to have a friend who allowed me to go out and do that instead of feeling pressured that everyone present had to go do the exact same activity every day! (For what it's worth, I wasn't the only one to go out and explore on my own -- the same offer was open to anyone and everyone, and some others did take advantage of that too.) While they went to the casino on Friday and a basketball game on Saturday, I drove around and checked out a bunch of stuff, including... fewer than four Half Price Books, lol! Yes, I know only three are pictured; I didn't purchase anything at the fourth store I went to, and it was also difficult to get in and out of in a busy shopping area with a bunch of stores including a Super Target, so I didn't bother photographing it. But at the first, second, and third locations I went to, I came away with way more CDs than I surely needed, haha, and just overall had a great time looking around. HPB is an awesome chain and I would absolutely love it if we had something like this closer to where I live! Maybe not here in Jackson specifically, as I'm sure these places depend on having the customer base to trade out merchandise on a regular basis, and I'm a bit doubtful we actually have that here. Plus, such a store might get old if I had the opportunity to go to it every week; it would lose the "special" feeling. But a good compromise would still be somewhere closer than Texas in one direction and Atlanta in the other, lol!

The location pictured in the middle image is actually HPB's flagship store, and I spent a good couple of hours in there just wandering around, exploring all the merchandise. CDs were my main focus, and I did find a couple of specific albums I was looking for between the four stores, so that was great! I would have spent more time looking for books, too, if not for the fact that I already own all the books in all the series I currently like to read (and haven't really found any new series yet, partially because I'm not looking either, since I barely have the time to keep up with reading regardless). The CDs were probably a bit overpriced compared to what I could get them for at other places, particularly Goodwill, but perhaps even online as well; but that's just the whole thing -- unlike others who shop online on a regular basis, I pretty much do 100% of my shopping in-person, because if something is online, I can easily talk myself out of buying it. On the other hand, if something is right in front of me, physically held in my hands, I am definitely much more inclined to purchase it -- and that's exactly what I did at all these Half Price Books stores, lol! In addition to all the CDs, I also purchased a few coffee table-type books (one of which was retail related, and I'll show y'all below), as well as a tote bag to add to my retail collection. The locations I visited were at 13388 Preston Road (top), 5803 E NW Hwy (the flagship, middle), 2440 Preston Road (in Plano, bottom), and 3221 Preston Road (in Frisco, not pictured). (As you might can tell, a lot of my driving was just endlessly down Preston Road!)

Not too far from the flagship HPB was Dallas's Northpark Mall. Now, I live not far from Ridgeland's Northpark Mall, and let me tell you -- this Texas alt-universe Northpark is 10,000% fancier, haha! The anchors (as you might can see if you zoom into the directory) are Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Macy's, and Dillard's, making Dillard's the *low-end* anchor out of all of those XD  I did go to Dillard's and bought a nice orange shirt (my favorite color -- if you couldn't already tell from the blog!), and did a lap around both levels of the mall, seeing tons of top-tier name brand retailers, and even more high-end stores I'd never even heard of. The Breitling (watch) store had a security guard outside! Elsewhere in the mall, there was an actual concierge station, and in one of the corridors was a live pianist! There's definitely no concierge or pianist at the Ridgeland Northpark, and any security guards you see here are probably for different reasons...

Because it was approaching the holidays, the mall had a neat little Christmas village setup, called "The Trains at Northpark" and supporting the Ronald McDonald House charity. That was fun. I also stopped at Maggiano's Little Italy for dinner, where I had some outrageously good chicken marsala and spaghetti aglio olio (butter pasta), with warm apple crostada for dessert. I never really eat out by myself, even at fast food places, but especially not at fancy restaurants like this, since I get self-conscious about doing so; however, even seated at a one-person table with tons of people surrounding me, on this day I didn't care in the slightest whether anyone was looking or what they were thinking -- I guess I was just high on the freedom, haha! The crostada wasn't really my favorite, and I don't normally even order dessert, but that was definitely a "when in Rome" moment. Plus, it let me save the rest of my entree for dinner the next night, as opposed to going with the rest of the group to Dick's Last Resort, which would have made me even more self-conscious, lol!

Back near our Airbnb was the former Tuesday Morning Corporate Offices, which was pretty wild to see with all the signage still intact, but everything else completely wiped out. (I'm a little curious in that last image, where only the "Tue" remains, how the rest of the sign would have been displayed: is that not a wall to the right, preventing any further sign placement?) I'm pretty sure we passed another, older corporate headquarters -- or perhaps former warehouse space -- on our way to the stadium the night of the game, too.

Of course, I have no pictures of the Airbnb, but it was a pretty neat place as well; we played frisbee in the yard at one point, and cooked out in the backyard on Saturday afternoon. I also had a good time just walking and driving around the rest of the neighborhood on various occasions. We had nice weather the entire time, thankfully (well, except for my drive into Dallas, where it rained buckets pretty much the entire drive beyond Little Rock and past the Texas border; it was so bad at one point I could barely see! Glad I made it safely, and for that matter that everyone else had safe drives and flights to and from, as well).

I guess because I slept in where most of the others were early risers, I never got the chance to join any of them on their grocery runs; I know they went to Aldi a few times, as well as at least one Tom Thumb (Albertsons) location. I'm a little bummed I missed out on a Tom Thumb, and I'll probably also disappoint any Kroger fans out there by saying I didn't stop in a Dallas Kroger, either -- although I did at least pull into the parking lot of the one at 17194 Preston Road, lol (which, I see now, is right next to one of the new CosMc's prototype locations -- whaaat?!). The one grocery store I did stop at, though, boasts itself as being Texas's best...

...H-E-B! Anonymous in Houston may never forgive me for this, lol, but I couldn't resist seeing what it was all about. I was really impressed by the store overall (as well as its decor, despite the fact that I didn't get any interior pictures); I was, however, a bit irked by the crowds (but I guess that was to be expected: everything is bigger in Texas! Including the interstates, too. That stuff is scary). I ended up leaving with a new T-shirt and pair of socks (again, couldn't resist: what other grocery store do you know of that has a full-blown display of branded merchandise?!), which are shown in the picture above alongside that retail book I mentioned from HPB, and our growl towel from the football game (okay, I know that's not what they're actually called, but I am familiar with that term from all the Grizzlies coverage on the Memphis news growing up, so that's what it will forever be known as in my mind). I bought a pretty good donut and chocolate muffin from there that was my breakfast the next day, and after that took off on the trip back home to Ridgeland: definitely a fun and memorable experience!

At the time I'm publishing this post, my friend's wedding is either happening very soon, or has just recently taken place (I'm writing this a couple of months in advance). I'm honored to be a groomsman, had an incredible time on the bachelor trip, proud to call him my friend, and so happy and excited for him and his wife, who are both amazing people. If you two are reading this -- congrats again!!

We'll set our sights back on Mid-South retail for our next post, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this fun excursion out to Texas with me. Until then and as always, thanks for reading, and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell