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Inflation has caused the $1 price point at dollar stores to be a rarity

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Record high inflation is all around - at the pump, at the grocery store, when you're buying clothes, when you go out to eat, if you can still afford to go out to eat. It's also crept onto the shelves of discount stores like Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar, where price tags are supposed to be low. That's the whole appeal of a dollar store. Shannon Carr is a regular Dollar Tree shopper who lives in Cincinnati. She also runs a nonprofit, Isaiah 55, which provides goods and services to those in need. And she joins us now to talk about the new unwelcome reality in the discount aisle. Good morning, Shannon.

SHANNON CARR: Good morning.

RASCOE: So first, talk to me about why you like shopping at the Dollar Tree and other dollar stores. What are your stores that you like to go to - Dollar Tree and where else?

CARR: We use Dollar Tree because all of our services are free. And so it's very easy to get gardening tools from Dollar Tree. And, like, right now, I'm using these sandwich bags to pack up seeds and things to give away in the community. Those things are staples for our business, and we really need those items.

RASCOE: Do you also do shopping at, like, Dollar Tree or what have you for your home life or nonbusiness needs?

CARR: Yes. The Don and the Comet (ph) - yes.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yeah, you got to get that. You got to get the Don, the Comet. The appeal of the Dollar Tree is everything's a dollar. My understanding is - and I heard this from my mother - that they have went up to, like, a dollar and a quarter because of inflation.

CARR: Yes.

RASCOE: That is a big deal, right?

CARR: That's a huge deal. You know, when I go to Dollar Tree, I need 50 of something, and so those quarters add up quickly.

RASCOE: Yes.

CARR: You know, we also feed families. And to get the big thing of napkins and cutlery and things like that - that quarter adds up.

RASCOE: I do understand you went shopping yesterday. Like, what did you buy, and did it cost more than it did just a few months ago?

CARR: Listen, so we're preparing gardening kits for the youth gardening classes that we teach. We get a container, a gardening trowel and other gardening supplies. So in the past, the quality was so much better. We have to poke holes in the bottom of the pot so that the water can come out when you put your plant in there. But now this year, when you go to poke a hole in it, the whole container at the bottom breaks.

RASCOE: Oh, wow. The containers that you use for, like, the flower pots...

CARR: Yes.

RASCOE: ...They just seem cheaper. They're just breaking apart. But they cost the same.

CARR: Oh, they don't cost the same. They're a quarter more.

RASCOE: Oh, they're a quarter more. I forgot. But they're less high quality.

CARR: Yes.

RASCOE: When prices go up, say, at the Dollar Store, where prices are supposed to be lower than other retailers, has that changed the way you shop?

CARR: Yes, it has. It did have me looking on Amazon a lot more and Googling. I never even thought to look at other companies or anything 'cause I always went to Dollar Tree to get these things. But this year, we also found some other places that were willing to give us a deal as well, 'cause I was telling them how Dollar Tree went up on their prices (laughter).

RASCOE: I mean, how else are you seeing inflation affect your household budget, if you don't mind me asking, like, at the grocery store? What are you finding just for your household?

CARR: Peroxide and witch hazel and things like that - the containers are getting smaller, so you're not getting as much as you were getting before.

RASCOE: Yeah.

CARR: And some of the stuff is just not readily available. Sometimes you have to go to multiple Dollar Trees just to find what you're looking for 'cause I like to buy in quantity, especially if they have the lavender Comet, you know?

RASCOE: Yes. Yes. If they have the...

CARR: You need to get 10.

RASCOE: You got to get a lot of them. Yeah. Stock up. So how are you feeling? Like, are you feeling stretched?

CARR: We are very stretched, especially with my business. We really need those big quantities of napkins for a dollar - the spoons, the cups and things like that - when you're feeding people, and we're giving everything away for free, you know? So that extra quarter could add up to, like, a whole meal. It's tough.

RASCOE: And what are you hearing from the people that you work with, who you're serving through your nonprofit? What are they saying about how the increase in prices is affecting them?

CARR: We have way more families and people that we serve now than we did in the past. A lot of people need help now who generally didn't need help in the past. And so when Dollar Tree is going up a quarter, when it used to be a dollar, that quarter is so sad.

RASCOE: So do you think inflation will hurt these kind of stores, or do you think that more people, because times are hard, will go to these stores 'cause they have no place else to go?

CARR: I think more people will tend to go to a Dollar Tree, even with it being a dollar and a quarter. They'll pay that because the prices at the other stores are extremely high. So you have to choose your battles.

RASCOE: Well, that was Shannon Carr of Cincinnati, Ohio. Thank you so much for joining us today.

CARR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.