The Rise and Fall of the 99 Cents Only Store

Author, Cynthia Uduchukwu

The journey of the 99 Cents Only Stores begins not with a grand vision but with a keen eye for opportunity. In the 1960s, Dave Gold, a Los Angeles liquor store owner, noticed a curious trend:  items priced at 99 cents disappeared from his shelves faster than anything else. This sparked a revolutionary idea – a store where everything costs 99 cents! The concept was audacious, challenging the established retail model and promising unparalleled affordability.


In 1982, Dave and Sherry Gold opened the first 99 Cents Only Store in Los Angeles. The promotional strategy of selling television sets for 99 cents to the first nine customers drew media attention and hundreds of shoppers, ensuring the store’s grand opening was a sensation. This marketing genius captured the public’s imagination and established the brand’s identity around the 99-cent price point​​.


However, the path to realization wasn’t smooth.  Wholesalers were skeptical, questioning the viability of such a low-margin business.  Undeterred, Gold persisted, forging relationships with closeout companies and manufacturers looking to offload surplus inventory. On a lucky Friday, the 13th of 1982, the first 99 Cents Only Store opened its doors in Los Angeles. It was an instant success. Shoppers flocked to the store, eager to unearth hidden treasures – brand-name items, offbeat finds, and everyday essentials, all at the magical price of 99 cents.


The Treasure Hunt Mentality: A Retail Phenomenon (1980s-1990s)


The 99 Cents Only Stores quickly became a significant player in the discount retail market, expanding its footprint across the Western United States. By offering a wide array of products, from fresh produce to household items and seasonal goods, at an unbeatable price, the stores appealed to a broad spectrum of consumers. The company’s growth was underpinned by a philosophy that combined value with fun, turning shopping into a treasure hunt for bargains.

The retailer’s cultural impact was notable, with its products and humorous marketing campaigns becoming a part of pop culture. It is featured in movies, video games, and even late-night talk shows, showcasing its widespread recognition beyond just a shopping destination​.


The 99 Cents Only Stores offered more than low prices; they provided an experience. Stepping into a 99 Cents Only Store was like a treasure hunt.  Inventory was constantly in flux, a chaotic symphony of colorful aisles brimming with the unexpected. Shoppers never knew what gems they might unearth – a discounted pack of name-brand razors, a quirky kitchen gadget, or even a pack of greeting cards for the next birthday on the calendar.  This element of surprise, coupled with the undeniable value proposition, fueled the brand’s phenomenal growth.


By the 1990s, the 99 Cents Only Stores had become a retail phenomenon.  The iconic red and yellow logo adorned stores nationwide, catering to budget-conscious shoppers and bargain hunters alike.  The company went public in 1996, a testament to its financial success.  The “99 cents only” promise wasn’t always strictly true – some items nudged the one-dollar mark – but the core principle of incredible value resonated with millions.


The Rise of Dollar Stores and the Rebranding Gamble (1990s-2010s)


Even at its peak, the 99 Cents Only Stores faced a looming challenge: the rise of dollar stores.  Dollar General, Family Dollar, and others began offering a more comprehensive selection of merchandise at similar prices, slowly chipping away at the 99 Cents Only Stores’ market share.  The retail landscape was evolving, and the “everything’s a dollar” model, once revolutionary, was becoming commonplace.


In 2016, the company made a bold and ultimately controversial decision.  They rebranded as “99 and The Fix,” introducing higher-priced items alongside the traditional 99-cent finds. The intention was to compete more effectively with dollar stores and cater to broader customer needs.  However, the move backfired. Loyal customers felt betrayed, believing the brand had abandoned its core value proposition. “The Fix” section, with its non-99-cent items, felt out of place and diluted the brand identity.

Inflation, Pandemic, and Shifting Consumer Habits (2010s-Present)


Even before the rebranding, the 99 Cents Only Stores faced headwinds beyond their control. Inflation, a constant foe of budget-conscious shoppers, slowly eroded the buying power of a dollar.  The once-mighty “everything’s 99 cents” promise started to feel less impactful.  Consumers, accustomed to a wider variety at dollar stores, found the selection at 99 and The Fix to be more limited.


Then came the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a global crisis that disrupted supply chains and increased prices. The 99 and The Fix, heavily reliant on closeout deals and unpredictable inventory, struggled to maintain consistent product availability. With their established supplier networks and broader product lines, Dollar stores were better positioned to weather the storm.


The Closure Announcement

In an announcement in April 2024, 99 Cents Only Stores revealed its decision to close all 371 stores, marking the end of an era for the discount retail pioneer. The interim CEO described the decision as “extremely difficult,” highlighting the financial struggles and competitive challenges that led to this juncture. The closure reflects not just the end of a business but the culmination of a retail philosophy that endeavored to stretch the consumer dollar to its limit​.

Marketing Insights from the Rise and Fall of 99 Scents Only Stores.

The story of 99 Cents Only Stores offers valuable lessons for digital marketers and businesses:


Innovate Constantly: 99 Cents Only Stores’ initial success was rooted in innovation. This translates into continuously exploring new platforms, technologies, and content strategies for digital marketers to engage audiences.

Adapt to Market Changes: As 99 Cents Only Stores adjusted its pricing in response to inflation, brands must be agile, using digital insights to pivot strategies and meet market demands.

Engage Through Storytelling: The brand’s ability to generate buzz through unique promotions highlights the power of storytelling. Digital campaigns should create narratives that resonate with audiences, driving engagement and loyalty.

Monitor and Respond: The closure of 99 Cents Only Stores is a cautionary warning about the need for constant market analysis. Digital tools enable real-time monitoring of consumer behavior trends, facilitating swift adjustments to marketing tactics.


Sustainability: In an era where consumer preferences shift rapidly, ensuring your business model’s sustainability is crucial. Digital platforms offer avenues to test, learn, and iterate on business strategies with minimal risk.


The digital age demands that brands not just react to change but anticipate and harness it. The story of 99 Cents Only Stores—its cultural impact, expansion, and eventual closure—underscores the imperative for brands to engage consumers across multiple platforms and through compelling narratives. Digital marketing is not just about selling a product; it’s about telling a story that resonates with and captivates the audience.

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