Dollar Store Diamonds


With all the holiday craft fairs and precious handmade items of every stripe on offer, it’s easy to overlook Brooklyn’s bevvy of dollar stores for Christmas shopping–do not make this mistake. We found cool items in pretty much every store we went into, and it’s not all kitschy junk, though there’s plenty of weird stuff to be discovered. Dollar stores excel at inexpensive dishware and glassware, and often yield surprising delights you wouldn’t find anywhere else. They’re also great for stocking stuffers, little Hanukkah gifts, Secret Santa exchanges and Christmas lights and tree decorations on the cheap. You just have to be okay with the Made in China stamp if you plan to shop here for your kids. Here are some of our favorite finds, all under $10.

Nothing says '"I love you" like a boob ball.

There’s really only one reason to shop at JJ’s 99 Cent & Up Discount Store on Havemeyer St. at South 1st in Williamsburg, and that is for the Mimi Ball, made by machine in China by Hua Hao Toys Co., Ltd. As you walk in, you’ll spot it on the ground near the register, stacked in trays like an open box of chocolates. Only the treats on display are flesh colored, squishy boobies with hard pink nipples, as fun to hold and squeeze as the real things. (Just don’t squeeze them too hard—you don’t know what kind of toxic goop might squirt out.) When asked if people usually buy the boobs in pairs–just $2.80 for two, surely the cheapest fake tits anywhere!–the saleswoman told us that not only do customers come in for a set, they often purchase them by the case. (Makes you wonder what that party is like.) The box claims it makes the “I Love You Sound,” but the boobs are awfully quiet. Maybe they meant, “Nothing says ‘I Love You’ like a boob ball.”

$99 Cent and Up Wonder, at Union and Broadway in Williamsburg is one of the larger dollar stores around. In addition to cheap school supplies, every kind of light bulb under the sun and a fairly extensive grocery section, they stock a rotating array of cool glassware, including a rather elegant turquoise-frosted carafe ($1.59) that wouldn’t be out of place at Fishs Eddy. Perfect for a batch of margaritas–or gift with a 3L box of wine to your favorite hostess on a budget. They also recently sported a huge selection of gold-rimmed rocks glasses adorned with pictures of dominoes and winning poker hands ($1.29 and up). The housewares tend to cycle through the shelves quickly, so stop in soon to stock up on metal cafeteria plates ($1.99 each), the kind that have ridges separating the plates into several different compartments. A Bengali friend told us that they’re popular in India for holding rice in one section and dal, condiments, main dishes and curries in the others. Or, slap some mashed potatoes down with a ladle for a meal served army style.

To those familiar with the Midwest, 99 Cents Amazing on Fulton Street between Claver and Franklin in Clinton Hill may remind you of those smaller discount stores found in strip malls along the highway next to questionable Chinese take-out restaurants. The store boasts an extensive kitchen collection, where you could stock a box full of goodies for a foodie friend with a knife set for under $5, a potato smasher, tongs, a ladle, a whisk and a package of fruit and vegetable refrigerator magnets for $1.19 apiece. Throw in a can of del Sol Octopus ($1.29) for fans of culinary oddities. Or, if you have a pal with who craves the bizarre (even more so than the boob ball), try a ceramic tile with a picture of a baby using the toilet or a silver candle in the shape of Jesus on the cross ($1.29).

Fill one of these with seed packets for a green-thumb gift.

For a friend with a green thumb, head to Gem Super Value on Grand Ave. between Graham and Manhattan in East Williamsburg. The store carries brightly colored pots in a few different shapes and sizes ($4.99-$5.99). Add a couple of seed packets full of herbs or, for a horticultural novice, a super-easy to care for cactus or succulent (neither available at Gem), for a legitimately lovely gift. The store also has a huge selection of Christmas supplies including ornaments, wrapping paper, fake trees and tons of lights for all your decorative needs.

Anthropologie or Dollar Store?

We’ve been admiring these glasses at ABC Ninety Nine Cents Plus on the corner of Graham and Metropolitan in East Williamsburg for a couple months now. With their rich colors and gold leaf designs they have a real Istanbul by way of Anthropologie vibe. At $1.29 each (though the price seems to depend on the cashier–a friend bought them for $1.99 each) they might be the best deal in Brooklyn right now. We wouldn’t recommend putting them in the dishwasher, but who has one of those anyway? ABC also carries frosted margarita glasses in turquoise (which perfectly match the carafe above) and orange that are pretty sweet.

99 Cents Plus & Gifts, located on 5th Ave and 16th St. in the South Slope, rings with electric holiday jingles from light-up decorations. Among the store’s narrow fluorescent-lit aisles, you’ll find a piggy bank in the shape of a Confucian scholar ($1.99) and a toucan sponge holder ($1.59)–the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates semi-functional ceramic kitsch. You could also pick up the ingredients for a cozy tea-time set for under $10 with a box of tea ($.99), honey ($1.39), two mugs ($.99-$1.39), and some Lindt chocolates ($2.69) for good measure. There are cool brandy glasses ($1.19 apiece), as well, for anyone who prefers a stronger drink.

A tiger, a sow and a donkey walk into a bar...

Available at 99 Cent Family Discount, on the same block as Gem Super Value, these “toys” are just straight up weird. In the same box of creepy plastic animals that these three beauties came from there were also several horses and an ostrich.Yes, that pig looks horrified or maybe enraged, and yes, those are nipples. We’re betting these aren’t really awesome kids’ gifts, they’re made in China, out of who knows what and all the animals seem under duress. They’re much more appropriate for that co-worker who covers his desk in toys, or as a conversation piece of a stocking stuffer.

For a gallery of most of the gifts we mentioned, plus a few we didn’t, visit our Facebook page–and like us if you haven’t already!

4 Responses

  1. just sayin' -

    yes, dollar stores are part of the brooklyn landscape.  but there is no mention here of the fact that they are filled with goods made outside of the U.S.  yeah, sure, we’re all broke these days and it’s hard around holiday time.  but why advocate for supporting economies other than our own?  this is the reason so many of us are out of work.  why not support a local vendor instead, or forego buying stuff and make gifts yourself?  dollar store stuff can be kitschy and weird, but at the end of the day, they hinder more than help our economy.

  2. just correctin' -

    re: below. do people like you even read the article in question before ranting and raving? the article tells you that this stuff is made in China three times. I understand the point you’re making, but c’mon! you can’t lead with a lie…

  3. just sayin' -

    Ah, you’re right.  Sorry, that first sentence is an error, should have proofread.  Of course I read the article, and I stand by my opinion nevertheless. 

  4. Aladin Sane -

    Not everybody can buy hand made artisanal soap cheese at the outdoor market in Union Square, “just sayin'”. And if you wanna get into why the economy is the way it is it goes SO far beyond dollar stores and China, but this is neither the time nor place.


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