This past Friday November 16, our American Studies seminar entitled American Food, got the opportunity to visit Bottom Dollar, a local grocery store located in the Fredericksburg shopping Center on Route 1 across from James Monroe High School. I arrived at Bottom Dollar at 1:15, the skies were sunny and clear with a high around 54°. This was my first experience with a Bottom Dollar. I am from Charlottesville Virginia, which is home to a number grocery stores including, Food Lion, Giant, Kroger, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and a brand new Wegmans, that has rocked the small but growing town of Charlottesville. I have heard of other grocery stores, like Piggly Wiggly and Winn Dixie but before coming to Fredericksburg I had never heard of Bottom Dollar.
While walking around the store one thing that stood out to me was an employee who was stacking the shelves and wearing a Food Lion (another common grocery store) hat. I thought this was strange and once returning home I decided to look into it. From my research I learned the same company, Delhaize America, owns both Food Lion and Bottom Dollar. Delhaize America is one of the nation’s largest grocery retiling companies, with stories including Harverys, Sweetbay Supermarket and others along the east coast. Bottom Dollar was first opened in the fall of 2005 in High Point, North Carolina. The company has stores in only five different states, one being Virginia. There are five cities in Virginia that have a Bottom Dollar, all of which are located in Fredericksburg and northern Virginia
Bottom Dollar is a discount grocery store that is known for its cheap prices. When thinking about the demographics the first thing that I noticed was where this Bottom Dollar was located and the other stores that were in the shopping center. Last year I took an Intro to Planning course for geography and learned about the layouts of shopping centers. In every shopping center there is usually something called a flagship store, which is usually a large retail store or grocery store in which the other smaller stores depend on for business. In this shopping center I would consider Bottom Dollar to be the flagship store. Bottom Dollar draws in customers to buy cheaper groceries and also have the option to visit other discount stores, such as Citi Trends, Taco Bell, Rent-A-Center, Fas Mart, and Cash Palace Pawn Shop. On the outside the shopping center did not look very well keep and did not look like money was being pumped into the shopping center, making it look run down.
Once I walked into the store the first thing I noticed was the size of the store. In comparison to a store like Giant or Food Lion, it was much smaller. There were not as many aisles and there seemed to be a lot of open space where as major grocery stores like Food Lion and Giant try to cram as many things into there store as possible so there is more of a selection. With Thanksgiving and the Holiday season quickly approaching the store had many Thanksgiving ingredients like, stuffing, premade pies, and can foods at the front of the store so customers could see them when they walked in, which is a very smart selling strategy.
When I arrived a little after 1:00 in the afternoon there were not many customers in the store. A majority of the customers that I did see were minorities and were older. I saw one student from the college there buying two cases of beer. The shoppers that I did come into contact with were very curious why a hand full of college age students were walking around the store with notebook. It was also interesting to see how the workers reacted to us being there, due to the fact that there were not many customers. I talked to one older woman, probably in her late seventies who was very kind and come up to me and ask what I was doing. I proceed to explain to her the bases of our class and what we were doing there. She was very kind and nodded but did not seem to understand why I was taking a college class on American food. She went on her way and due to the fact that store is so small I continued to walk around and see her and she would smile and shake her head.
I also had the opportunity to talk to a male employee that I met as I was walking down the cereal aisle. He politely asked me if I needed any assistance and when I replied no he asked what I was doing. I also explained to him about our class and he started to ask me questions about my major and what food had to do anything with a college course. After he asked me some questions I asked him how long he had worked here and he explained to me that he had attended George Mason College and had been working for the Delhaize America Company for fourteen years. As I interacted and observed the customers in the store I started to think about Bottom Dollars clientele and market. From my observation and research on Bottom Dollar I believe that families of lower socioeconomic status tend to shop at Bottom Dollar because of the lower prices.
Bottom Dollar’s main selling point is their cheap prices. As you walk through the store each section is littered with phrases that remind the customers that they are receiving the best prices. For example in the Dairy section it said, “With these prices, there’s no need to cry over spilt milk.” Over the produce section it said “Our Produce us extra fresh only prices are withered,” and in the meat section it said, “prices that let you buy dinner with lunch money.” Everywhere you turned in the store there seemed to be something reminding you that prices were low. On all of the employee’s shirts there were sayings like “I work here and can’t even get better prices.” Another selling pattern that I saw was the use of WOW or WIC items. Like in most grocery stores Bottom Dollar had items that were on sale and called these items WOW/ WIC items. Items on sale this week included Hot Pockets on sale for 2.18, and Digiono Pizza for 5.68.
With all of these reminders about the prices I could not help but think that the company may be trying to hide something from its consumers. Because prices were so low does that mean that the quality of food was also low? When I visited the produce section I examined the apples and was struck by how un-appetizing they looked. They looked like they had been in the store for weeks just sitting on the shelf and did not look fresh at all. Looking at these apples I could not help but think of the apples that were on sale when we went to Wegmans and how fresh and delicious those looked.
Overall I thought that our visit to Bottom Dollar was very beneficial. This being our third and last fieldwork visit I was really able to see the difference between each of the places that we have visited. Each place that we visited had a different type of customer, while Wegmans and the farmers market was geared more towards the upper and middle class, I believe that more lower income families shop at Bottom Dollar due to the lower prices and the economy. If everyone had money and had the option to buy things from the farmers market and Wegmans, I believe they would, however inmost cases those places are not an option due to money restrictions. At Bottom Dollar a gallon of milk cost 3.79 while at Giant milk was on sale for 3.99. Twenty cents may not seem like much but money does add up and with our current economy many families have to choose price over quality.