Anyone who thinks there isn't much available for a dollar these days obviously hasn't been to Lori Stevens' Dollar Store lately -- which is exactly what prompted Stevens to move her business from the outskirts of commercial Kenai to the Peninsula Center Mall in downtown Soldotna.
Stevens owned and operated the Dollar Store in its old location, 11888 Kenai Spur Highway. She and her then husband purchased the store two years ago. Stevens took over sole ownership of the store in February 2001 and has struggled since then to rebuild the store's inventory and make a profit.
"I never made any money there," Stevens said. "(The store) has been doing all right for itself, paying its own bills and rebuilding inventory, but not really making any money. There was no way to take anything home."
Stevens attributes the lack of business to the store's location, saying she didn't even know the store was there until her husband bought it, and she has lived in the area since she was 13.
"It was like the last thing going out of town in Kenai, so nobody passed it out there," Stevens said. "No one came in unless they went there on purpose. This way we'll get whoever walks by."
Earlier this month, Stevens saw a way to change her luck. She was speaking with the Peninsula Center Mall owner's wife on March 15, who suggested she look into renting a space at the mall. Stevens did more than look into the idea, she put down a deposit for a spot in the mall on March 16, packed up her store in Kenai, moved it all to Soldotna on March 17, and opened for business in her new location on March 18.
Picking up and moving when she wasn't making a profit in the first place was a risky move that Stevens hopes will pay off.
"I scraped up everything I had plus borrowed from my dad to get into the mall," she said. "Hopefully I'll have more money to build it up."
So far, business has been looking up. Since reopening on March 18, Stevens has seen more traffic in the store than she usually gets, she said. Rent at the mall may be more expensive, but there are benefits to the store's new location. Stevens doesn't have to pay heating bills or worry about shoveling snow and maintaining the parking lot, since the mall takes care of that. And Stevens saves gas money and time commuting since she lives in Soldotna.
Stevens' plan at the moment is to build up her inventory to the point where she can offer new merchandise every week. Her inventory changes regularly, since she rarely orders the same items twice in a row, but she'd like to consistently offer a new variety, she said. Stevens hopes this will happen in about a month.
In the future, she'd like to get to the point where she can operate the store as her sole source of income. Prior to relocating, Stevens worked for her parents' sharpening business to supplement her income. She'd like to make enough from the store to just work one job.
Stevens is thinking seriously about hiring an employee as well, she said. In the past, she ran the store herself, with occasional help from her mother or family friends.
"There's a lot of hours the mall is open, and I have three kids, so I actually have to be a mom sometimes," she said.
Stevens, 31, lives in Soldotna with her children Zayan, 10, Zac, 9, and Hanna, 3. The Dollar Store is open during Peninsula Center Mall hours -- Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
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