Ode to the Target Dollar Spot

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The Daily Mail expressed surprise this week at spotting Adele shopping in a California Target despite “being a multimillionaire.” I felt no such shock. Although I am mildly ashamed to admit it, #targetdoesitagain and #targetdollarspot are always among my top Instagram searches. These tags provide carefully staged photos of pencils, notepads, chalk markers, and cake stands, choreographed by Instagram users with names like Plannergirl59 and MacaronMagic. (Macarons and the Eiffel Tower are very popular with American crafters, most of whom I suspect have never visited Europe).

To understand the allure of these hashtags, you need to understand a little about the Target dollar spot, or to use its official name, Bulleye’s Playground. The dollar spot greets you as soon as you walk into any Target store. Everything in the section is either $1 or $3 (although there are also $5 items now), and the items change seasonally. From Halloween window clings to hot dog baskets, glitter glue to heart-shaped paper clips, mason jars to US maps, Dr Suess erasers to Frozen hairbrushes, the dollar spot knows no bounds.

Consistency, however, is not the spot’s strong point—one day it will be fully stocked with seasonal gems, then, almost instantly the shelves will be empty for weeks on end. The dollar spot is a cruel mistress.

It is this unpredictability that feeds the Target Instagram frenzy. “Hit the jackpot at Target today!” reads the caption on bountiful images of stickers, rubber stamps, dish cloths, and the occasional wire pumpkin or Easter Egg tree. Hitting the jackpot at Target does not mean goods were on clearance, or that the store offered free gift cards, but rather that the dollar spot was fully stocked, and you were able to part with your hard earned cash. This is success to a dollar spot fan.

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While they might not recognize themselves as a fandom, Target dollar spot enthusiasts share many characteristics with other well-known fandoms such Potterheads or Trekkies. For example, there is a shared jargon—every item offered at the dollar spot is unfailingly described as “cute,” or, for real emphasis, “so cute” in Instagram comments.

There is a shared sense of purpose—a common belief that only like-minded stationery and home goods addicts can understand their plight. For example, next to an image of a lone novelty Easter pencil, user ilovemakeup laments, “I’ve only been able to find one pen out of the four from the target dollar spot,” accompanied with a range of sad-faced emojis.

In online forums, shoppers share pictures of Target trucks and cardboard boxes of dollar spot merchandising awaiting the shelves. Stories of women patiently pacing the aisles waiting for shelves to be restocked are not uncommon. The oft-cited idiom that “the dollar spot struggle is real” provides unity to shoppers dispersed all over the United States.

Indeed, the dollar spot’s fanbase is not limited to the USA. On the pages of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook’s “dollar spot swap” group, crafters the world over lament the paucity of Targets in their countries, and plead for volunteers to buy Target’s list pads, post-its, and gel pens and mail them internationally. PayPal makes such transactions easy.

phdpftarget4Planner girls—women who approach a weekly planner with the same tenacity as a Midwestern scrapbooker—find particular delight in the Target dollar spot and its ever changing range of seasonal list pads and labels. The most sought after items are the page flags—decorated miniature post-it notes, which rarely stick due to the cheap adhesive. Such a design flaw, however, does not deter a committed planner. Instead, they swap tips on how to redo the glue and laminate the flags. Like any self-respecting fandom, Target fans assign their own values on dollar spot products, most especially the hallowed page flags. I recently sold a “rare” set of $1 page flags for over $20 on eBay. The coveted teal polka dot and pink striped page flag set can go for upwards of $75.

This frenzied economy explains the shelf-lifting craze of 2015. Target shoppers realized that older merchandise occasionally fell underneath the stores’ shelving units, and thus advocated taking apart the metal merchandise displays to see what hidden gems could be found amongst the dust. After people began posting images of injuries they sustained in the process, online communities began to advocate against the practice.

At the end of 2015, Target rebranded the dollar spot. When shelving displays disappeared from stores, chatrooms feared the end of the Spot. Following the rebrand announcement, fears were instantly allayed and instead communities speculated about Target’s new bargain bins with the ferocity of a teenager waiting for a favorite boy band to come to town.

Along with other Target aficionados, I now dutifully add #bullseyesplayground to my Instagram searches. I tell myself I have my standards. I won’t shelf-lift or risk any bodily injury in the pursuit of bargains. I refuse to buy the multipack pencils, however “cute,” because they never sharpen. I will never buy page flags on eBay, or use the phrase “the struggle is real.”

And yet, yesterday I hit the Target jackpot. I took a photo of the rows of dollar spot merchandise and sent it to my husband. I sat on the shop floor to reach merchandise stuck at the back of the shelf. I left the store with 50 paper straws, a water carafe, two yards of glittery ribbon, 40 ice cream cups, and a packet of novelty erasers. Target did it again…

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