Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Piece of Cake

  I took a trip to the Dollar Tree store in Marshalltown with Kathy this past Sunday afternoon. Dollar stores have always fascinated me. A whole store full of stuff for a dollar! When my sons were younger there was a dollar store at the town ‘mall’ and I’d take them to it on Saturday and tell them they could get anything in the store they wanted. Matt and Ben would patrol the store with wide eyes trying to decide whether they would get a toy or candy or maybe a sealed ‘surprise’ bag (which tended to contain some candy and toys that broke loose from their packaging but once Matt got a baseball along with the candy and toys.

  Most of the dollar stores I used to see in New Jersey were independently owned and not franchises. There were 77 cent stores in New York City and years and years ago and I would get packs of cancelled stamps from them. The stores raised their prices to 88 cents and then 99 cents and then went out of business altogether. It’s got to be hard to run a business where everything costs a dollar. It would be easy to teach people to use the cash register but there can’t be much profit to be made on each individual item.

Candy, Toys, and snack food. If only the Dollar Tree had genuine Cheetos....

  There are plenty of stores with DOLLAR in the name like Family Dollar and Dollar General, but don’t be fooled – very little of their merchandise costs a dollar. I could start my own dollar store if I wanted to (you could also starting at this link), but in Iowa in general and Marshalltown in particular, the Dollar Tree is the king of dollar stores. The stores are all corporately owned and they even have their own Dollar Tree web site so I could take advantage of the bargains without leaving the comfort of my home.

  Most of the merchandise at the Dollar Tree is of low quality, but sometimes there are great bargains. On Sunday, they had Progresso Minestrone soup for a dollar a can. At the Hy-Vee supermarket 2 miles away, the same cans cost $1.88. It did take a little work to find undented cans but it was well worth the price. Kathy bought a pack of 60 doggy-pick-up bags for yes, a dollar. When I walk the dogs I just take a garden trowel with me and flick the stuff into the street, but I can see spending a few pennies per walk to be a good neighbor. I’ve gotten quite a few books at the Dollar Tree. Except for the Bible, the books are hardly best-sellers, but I’ve bought hockey great Phil Esposito’s autobiography and this collection of writings by sportswriter David Halberstam in the last year or so.

Survey says...32!!
  The Dollar Tree is a little too lowbrow to carry genuine Cheetos (instead carrying a cheap knock-off), but they do carry a lot of name brand candy and snacks. Due to their discount/closeout nature they tend to carry products that have odd flavors or sizes. On Sunday, I found a dollar bag of Peanut M & M’s that was almost double the size of the 85 cent pack I can get from the vending machine at work. Because I have been unusually sensitive to the pricing plight of Peanut M&M lovers lately, I put the bag in my shopping cart and when I got home I counted the contents and was pleased to find out that the bag contained 32 Peanut M & M’s, 62% more than the vending machine at work for only 17% more money and a 27% better value than even the best value the miserly crank style vending machine dispensed (6 for a quarter).

  The clip on my trusty Nikon Coolpix camera that holds the battery in place has broken but luckily I was able to add a roll of duct tape to my shopping cart to patch up my camera in the best Midwestern tradition and we made our way to the checkout line. Like most stores, the Dollar Tree has impulse buy items close to the register. There is a soda cooler nearby and gum, candy, and batteries in easy reach. After I paid for our haul of items, I looked to my left and saw 3 dozen cups of microwavable
‘E-Z Cake in a Cup’. The idea of being able to put a cup in a microwave oven and eating cake a second or two later had great appeal to me and I decided to pull a dollar out of my pocket and make the additional purchase.

  The cashier told me that the price of the ‘cake in a cup’ was $1.07 (with tax) not a dollar. This told me that the State of Iowa did not consider ‘cake in a cup’ to be food. I reviewed the Iowa sales tax guidelines on food (Here's a link) and it says that ‘Bread and flour products’ are exempt but I had to pay the tax to take my cake home. I found this a little disconcerting at the time, but the guidelines also say certain candy and soda items are taxable unless being paid for with food stamps. I’ve alerted the Romney campaign of this ‘soak the rich’ policy in case the former governor runs out of talking points in the upcoming debates.

Aided by my crack team of cake inspectors, baking a cake was 'E-Z'!

A few supplies and 4 minutes until E-Z Cake.
  I’m not much of a cake eater (even though Kathy is a great at baking) but I couldn’t resist trying to make my own cake. I was too busy on Sunday to make my ‘E-Z Cake in a Cup’, but on Monday I had some spare time and decided to go for it. Daisy and Baxter were interested in the cake also (as well as anything edible) and made sure I followed all the steps correctly. I peeled the top off the cup, poured the powder in, added 2 tablespoons of water, and stirred the mixture for 3 minutes. I was surprised that 2 tablespoons of water would be enough to make cake batter of the powder but it surely did (I didn’t think that the stirring came under the category or E-Z). I put the cup in the microwave for a minute, opened the door, and we had E-Z CAKE! I could tell you how it tasted, but showing you is E-Zier.

  While we were eating our cake, Kathy looked at the nutritional information and noticed that while the cake had over an ounce of sugar, it also contained over 40% of my daily cholesterol needs. I worked from home yesterday because I was going to take a couple of hours off and get my driver’s license renewed but I had another reason to stay in Marshalltown. Once I had renewed my license, I made my way across the street where the Dollar Tree just happened to be. I searched up and down the aisles looking for ‘E-Z Cake in a Cup’ but couldn’t find any. The manager asked if he could help me and I told him what I was looking for and he said ‘They’re gone. We can’t keep them in stock’.