If you’re a fan of instant gratification, then you already know why I love a Five-and-Ten-Cent store. For one thing, there’s a nostalgia factor. I’m old enough to remember when they had soda fountains at the back where you could get a milk shake or an egg creme. Vanilla for me, chocolate for Mom and my brother.
A variety store is the retail cousin of the American diner. I used to know a woman who refused to look at diner menus when they were presented, quite rightly saying, “If I can think of it, then the kitchen will have it.” Apart from sushi and the more esoteric branches of culinary exploration that have become all the rage, this is a statement of fact. From a roast beef dinner to a tuna melt on rye, from the case of revolving cakes so tall that they look like they’re on steroids to the inevitable rice pudding, a diner has everything.
So does a 5-and Dime, which is not to be confused with the pound (or 99 cent) shop, which is another (lesser) beast entirely.
Whenever I’m feeling blue I walk around a couple of corners to St Patrick Square and pay a visit to the Edinburgh Bargain Store. It is a balm for my soul. Why do I love it? Let me count the ways:
I love the depth and breadth of its notebook section, where I can buy sweet little Fontaine memo pads, reporters’ steno pads or those examination-style books, whose pages don’t detach, in mouthwatering colours (at 79 pence each, I am happy to buy a rainbow’s worth). It is flanked by a selection of pens that would put Rymans to shame.
I love the wall of plastic food storage containers (I call it Tupperware but it’s not, it doesn’t burp). Big ones, small ones, specialist shapes with novelty nozzles — you got a leftover, they’ve got a place to stash it. And don’t get me started on the thermoses.
I love the ceiling-high selection of cooking implements, spatulas to slotted spoons and then some, in wood, plastic, and silicone.
There’s a wall of lightbulbs. They sell sewing thread and implements. There’s a selection of cheap luggage, bedding, towels, and faux fur throws. (I wouldn’t actually buy that stuff here, but it’s nice to know I could.) You need drinking glasses? Wine or water? They have dozens to choose from. Tea pots, coffee dispensers and placemats, too. Ditto alarm clocks (starting at £3) and electric kettles, both stored behind the cashiers near the front of the shop. That’s also where you’ll find a showcase containing very peculiar objects d’reck, some of them VERY shiny, with which to decorate your home. You couldn’t pay me to display one in my flat, but I am delighted by them on every visit.
Toward the back of the shop you will find pots and pans, hundreds of them, some quite good quality indeed. Tea towels, napkin holders, those silver dishes they serve food in at Asian restaurants, cutlery, picture frames, condiment dispensers, children’s toys, cleaning products, tools, plastic storage boxes that slide under the bed, gardening supplies (kneelers, gloves, trowels, you name it) and miles of extension cords — it’s all here.
One of my favourite parts of the store is what I call the German Personal Grooming area. Here you’ll find an exhaustive range of tiny beautification tools, such as tweezers and zit exploders. It was here that I found myself compelled to purchase a small tool for cleaning combs — two teeny weeny bristly rollers held together in a white plastic frame with its own wee handle for gripping. I never use it. Don’t you dare ask me to throw it away.
No matter how broke I am, no matter how frustrated I feel by the need to sideline my champagne tastes, there will always be something wonderful at the Bargain Store that I can afford. I am comforted knowing that should I pop a button or dash my wineglass into the fireplace, the Bargain Store will sort me out. Its abundance on a human scale. And I love it.