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The first five-and-dime store in the United States, opened by F.W. Woolworth in Lancaster, Pa., on June 21, 1879
I smile and step up to the counter. As I unload my purchases, a stately man of indeterminate age whom I’ve seen many times before rings me up. I briefly explain my mission and ask if I can interview him. “You can ask me any questions you want,” he says. Clearly,? this is the biggest sale of the day. “$100 and 66 cents!” he announces? after totaling up what has amounted to four oversize shopping bags of loot. “No way!” I exclaim. Take that, Bob Barker.

Roger Dhanani has owned 99 Cent Rush for seven years, along with several other stores. “My three partners are like my nephews. It’s like a family business,” he tells me.

He confirms my assumption that one of the reasons the products, in particular the grocery items, are so cheap is that many of them are close to their expiration dates. “Most of the products come from China,” he says. “I get them from suppliers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”

Dhanani says that years ago he was making good money, but now the store is “just surviving.” His customers are mainly buying socks, cleaning products and household items — the bare necessities. “Because of the economy, everyone’s trying to save money and get away with as little as possible,” he says.

Dhanani himself uses most of the products that he sells in the store, and now it’s time for me to begin doing the same. I schlep my bags home and get to work on my first experiment: dinner.

Day One Normally when I fix dinner, I’m inspired by watching cooking shows on TV. Over the past few weeks, Luke has sampled Emeril’s Moroccan chicken; Giada’s turkey, kale and brown rice soup; and Bobby Flay’s lemon ricotta pancakes. But suddenly I realize that there are no fresh vegetables to be had and that protein will have to be of the canned variety. Without a second thought, I grab the box of Tuna Helper from my shopping bag and pair it with some chunk light tuna in water.

When Luke arrives home, he notices that our living room smells strangely like cat food — and we don’t have a cat. We take our usual seats on the couch in front of the television, I spoon the enhanced tuna onto our plates, and we dig in. Two hours later, the babies are in bed and I’m brushing my teeth while mentally composing a letter to the makers of Tuna Helper, accusing them of false advertising. Oh, well, at least I can relax in my bath — my favorite thing to do once the kids are asleep. After a few minutes, I remember the shiny pink scrub brush I picked up in the dollar-store beauty aisle. A few strokes later, my skin is more than clean — it’s pink and raw. The brush has gone beyond exfoliating and straight into nearly removing a layer of my epidermis. Stepping out of the tub onto my dollar-store bath mat, I wrap myself in my new brown, sandpapery towel, dry off and go to sleep.