“Look at ya’, with that Family Dollar Store shirt on.”
My high school classmate meant that as an insult – and I took it as one – because in high school, near about everything we said to each other was meant as an insult.
So I lied and reflexively replied “Naw it ain’t.”
Pssst: It was.
Today? I’d embrace the “insult,” but at 15 – when you don’t want to stand out from your peers in any way – being outed for wearing cheap clothes made you an object of ridicule.
I’m just glad that there was no social media in those days, because instead of saying it to me, that friend would have posted it on Twitter or Facebook and I’d have had to leave school for the day or forever.
That had already happened once before, after the Natural Four performed on Soul Train one Saturday and I, smitten by their funky hairstyle, showed up at Richmond Senior High School on Monday with my hair permed, too.
It was in the bathroom before first period when my pal Raymond gawked at my new ’do and inquired “What the hell’d you do to yer hair?”
I left school immediately, went home and spent the next several hours washing Murray’s hair pomade out of it.
What’s that got to do with my Family Dollar Stores shirt?
Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently blamed such “dollar stores” for messing up the environment.
“America is getting much dirtier and there are like Dollar Stores everywhere and people litter… Maybe it’s an intentional effort to weaken the country, maybe they just don’t like America…”
Dollar stores are, he said “a blot on God’s creation.”
Sorry, old bean, but we can’t all be related to heiresses of the Swanson frozen food fortune.
The poor in America have always been demonized, but don’t they, too, deserve to be able to shop in a nice store, to clothe and feed their families?
Charlotte can lay claim to the first Family Dollar Store, which would be followed by more than 8,200 others, but the family that started it got its business start in Rockingham.
Perhaps that’s why I was insulted when Carlson blamed them for messing up the environment.
J. Neal Cadieu, publisher of the Richmond County Daily Journal when I worked there in the 1980s, was an adolescent paperboy there in the 1940s when his father was publisher.
“I remember Minnie and Harry,” he said, speaking of the parents of Leon Levine, Family Dollar’s founder.
“At the time, they owned the Hub” clothing store downtown, he said, and Harry Levine and he had a little business tete-a’-tete they’d perform when he went in to collect.
“I’d walk in and Harry – of course, I called him Mr. Levine – would say ‘I’ve already paid you, didn’t I?’ I would pull out my book and look and say ‘No, you didn’t,’ and he’d laugh, say ‘I was just kidding,’ pull out the dime and hand it to me…
Despite my denial of my shirt’s provenance, Family Dollar Stores in the 1960s and 1970s helped a whole lot of working class people stay clothed.
Back before the chain seemingly switched its emphasis to household goods and cleaning supplies and Funyons, you could get an entire outfit for $6. I know that because, when the store opened in Rockingham, it boasted “nothing over $3.”
You’d think that a $3 shirt and pair of britches wouldn’t last very long, but they did. The clothes were inexpensive, not cheap.
Sure, once when I put on a brand new pair of corduroy pants from there, the button popped off with such velocity that people over in Hamlet were ducking, but that often happened regardless of where I bought my pants.
I, for one, still appreciate dollar stores, and consider neither them or the people who shop there “a blot on God’s creation.”
For many, they are a blessing.
Columnist Barry Saunders is a member of the editorial board and founder of theSaundersReport.com.