Dollar deals

For the residents of coastal Delaware, Dollar Buys makes a lot of sense. One Fenwick Island couple hopes it will make a lot of cents too.
Coastal Point • JOSH MILLER: Bud and Mary Vorhees patrol the front counter at Dollar Buys, in West Fenwick Station.Coastal Point • JOSH MILLER:
Bud and Mary Vorhees patrol the front counter at Dollar Buys, in West Fenwick Station.

Bud and Mary Vorhees relinquished retirement on June 26, 2005 to start the dollar store at 4 West Fenwick Station, off of Route 54 in Selbyville.

Marching to the pulse of the community — the Vorhees have lived in Fenwick Island since 1974 and owned businesses in the area for nearly as long — the entrepreneurial pair perceived a demand for shops with an eclectic selection of inexpensive goods. They determined a store where a single George Washington (or Sacagawea) could buy anything inside — from pizza cutters to beach shovels — would fit superlatively.

“You have to satisfy the locals and then they’ll bring others,” Bud said. “That’s our philosophy and always has been.”

Adhering to the nothing-more-than-a-buck mantra, Bud said, allows Dollar Buys to contrast its competition. Being a family-owned-and-operated establishment, rather than a cog in some greenback empire, Mary added, also has helped Dollar Buys in customers’ eyes.

“Some people will ask (if the store is a chain) and, yes, they like to support us because we are independent,” she said. “We also just assume that’s the case.”

But while mom-and-pop status may add points in terms of consumer appeal, it does not always beget black ink in the bookkeepers’ pen. This business after all, Bud noted, is a battle of the bulk.

“What you have to do is a lot of volume,” Bud said. “You’re only making 25 or 30 cents on each item.”

Dollar Buys cannot secure merchandise so economically as its big-fish rivals because the small fry lacks the floor space and purchasing power to make large-scale acquisitions. In search of better bargaining power, Dollar Buys joined a conglomerate with other small dollar and variety stores in the area. The consortium’s suppliers were capricious though, Bud said, prompting the Vorhees pull out and place their faith in the commerce acumen of daughter Jessica, the store’s manager.

Jessica’s discretion has improved the salability of Dollar Buys’ commodities, but stocking the store remains an inexact science — finding decent Frisbees, favorites of beachgoers, for example, proved difficult, according to Bud.

“We hope we can find something that is good quality for a dollar,” he said. “A lot of it is trial and error.”

“We try new items every week, and of course we have a wish list,” his wife added. “Our meat and potatoes are paper products and school supplies, and people love our party supplies.”

With an array of seemingly incongruent goods — toiletries and plastic containers, boomerangs and dog bones, greeting cards and candy — Dollar Buys survives by the throw-enough-mud credo, hoping that at least one product will stick to a shopper’s wish list.

“There’s a lot of unique things,” Mary said. “It’s hard not to find a basket for your table, a gadget for your kitchen, a toy for your kid or a colorful bowl for your dog. Everybody can use something.”

And, thus far, the small ball philosophy has kept Dollar Buys scoring with the locals — one buck at a time.

“Right now, we’re very pleased,” Bud said. “At this point, it’s just a matter of building up the business. We’re happy that we’re able to provide a service.”