By Laura Shanahan
Less Less is gone gone. Cheese ’n’ crackers! I’d long been meaning to scope out the West 24th Street Less Less, ever since I heard it was a family-type operation with service and ambiance well beyond what one may typically associate with a discount novelties/staples store. I finally dusted off my MetroCard, and after a quick online search that strongly suggested LL was still a viable business, I sallied forth—only to be met with a storefront whose darkened interior was clearly stripped of stock.
Gaaah! “When did this place close?” I demanded of a passing dog-walker who seemed a trifle scared of my intensity. “Maybe a month ago,” he said. Well, better that I made the trip a month too late than too early, when I may’ve reported about a store that you would then find shuttered.
Besides—here’s good news—it turned out I didn’t make the trip for nothing. The dog walker, throwing me a bone (ho-ho!), perhaps to appease me lest I begin wailing and rending his garments, suggested a great 99-cent store nearby.
Indeed, 99 Cent Creation, at 244 W. 23rd St., is one of the premier shops of its ilk. Top o’ the pyramid, I’d have to say, is Jack’s on West 32nd Street (we really should do an update on it and the upper level Jack’s World). At the bottom of the hierarchy are the smaller, drearier versions with the predictable stock. But the indie 99 Cent Creation is darn near top of the food chain, with a large, surprise-filled cornucopia of goods.
Sure, virtually every such discounter has plastic flatware; here you can pick up actual metal spoons and forks tagged at 3/99 cents. Where else do you see that? While you can find many of your fave national brands here—Scott (89 cents a roll), Tide, Campbell’s and so forth—there’s also the thrill of more, um, exotic labels. Consider the three-packs of spiffy patterned men’s boxers by Xuehuaging for $5.99 (c’mon, you can’t hold them to 99 cents for that), and the three-packs of Dalan Golden Tropics soap for $1.29.
Ah, the soaps. What an exotic collection awaits clean freaks like me—and you? Consider Dettol, whose labeling is written in every conceivable language—except English. No matter; the color-coded bars indeed do give a single descriptor that requires no translation: Pink is “skincare,” blue is “active,” lighter blue is “cool,” and so forth. (I didn’t say the descriptors would always make that much sense—but who doesn’t like to unwrap a mystery—especially at only $1.09 per?)
Zounds, here is Zote! This is a traditional Mexican brick of laundry soap, weighing in at a hefty 14.1 ounces. If you’re wondering how you can wash clothing with solid soap, picture the corrugated washboards of yore, or simply a board-free hand wash. “Zote is a high quality soap and can be confidently used for washing your family’s clothes,” the wrapper states. What about washing non-family member clothes? Hmmm, doesn’t say. However, consider: Zote fans have posted that the product can also be used for baiting catfish—could I make that up?—so it seems one way or the other, folks get their money’s worth; just $1.49.
Is it a skin tonic, cologne or linen refresher? Florida Water, a distinctive mix of orange, cinnamon and floral extracts introduced in the early 1800s, is all of the above and more.
This hard-to-find classic sits here in its fancifully labeled elegant bottle, variously sized, awaiting your selection; $1.29-$1.99.
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