Save the 99 Cent Stores

They’re wonderful.

Photo: Charley Lhasa/Flickr

Java Discount is a 99 cent store in a Brooklyn neighborhood populated by aesthetically pleasing restaurants and cafes plastered with warm wood and artisanal cocktails — Greenpoint. It is also a business that is valuable to many people in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, due to rising rents and the insidious tentacles of gentrification, it looks like it might be going out of business.

Locals Fight to Save 99 Cent Store in ‘Land of the $14 Hamburger’

Their lease expired in 2013 but their landlord let them pay rent month to month. When their landlord fell ill, a relative took over and is now trying to sell the building. The loss of the store will affect the neighborhood, populated as it is with artisanal cocktail dispensaries and overpriced hamburgers.

“You can thumb your nose that this is mass-produced, cheap stuff from China, but we’ve become reliant on it,” said Heather Letzkus, who’s lived across the street from Java Discount since it opened. Letzkus, an artist, shops at the store for plastic cups to mix paint, lavender-scented ammonia to clean her floors, batteries, candles and other gear.

“It’s not sexy but it’s needed,” she said. “If you want a place to get anything, this is pretty much it.”

People in the neighborhood need a dollar store more so than they really “need” a place that sells cheese. This dollar store is emblematic of a larger issue, of course. When Java Discount eventually closes, it will be replaced by something that caters to the newcomers with the money to spend.

Dollar stores are wonderful neighborhood institutions that straddle the line between grocery store, drug store and bodega, essential for when you first move to a new place and don’t have your bearings quite yet, but desperately need toilet paper, a mixing bowl and sheets. There’s no shinier, new and improved version of a dollar store that could effectively take their place — part of their magic is in the random assortment of goods and how they somehow always have what you need.

Do you shop at dollar stores? Is there one that’s particularly close to your heart? Does this kind of slow-burning gentrification make you angry or is it just me?

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