Apr 28

National Dollar Stores trumpet savings, World War II week by week

April 28, 1942 National Dollar Store ad from the defense special section of the Telegram-Tribune

Over five months into the war, advertising was taking a decidedly martial turn.
Dollar stores are not a new idea. Discount shopping is a theme in some of the earliest advertising in the Tribune and the Telegram.

Joe Shoong was the Sam Walton of his day. Born of immigrant parents the Chinese-American businessman started a shop called “China Toggery” in 1903 with three partners. The 24-year-old had bigger ambitions and better ideas. Within four years he had bought out his partners, established more branches and rebranded the franchise as “National Dollar Stores.”
The enterprise grew to more than 50 stores in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Washington and Utah.

Labor issues that National Dollar Store experienced would open the door to Asian-Americans to earn positions in what had been traditionally white only labor unions.
The San Francisco sweatshops that had been owned by the chain were unionized after strikes in the late 1930s. The chain’s counter move would also give a template to discount businesses of the future. They abandoned manufacturing to a series of independent contractors who sometimes closed shop and relocated leaving behind unpaid labor debts. Come to think of it big chain, discount shopping, labor controversy sounds a lot like Wal-Mart.

This store bought a full page ad; it was concerned about being caught in the backlash against Japanese-Americans.

Uncle Sam blows a bugle, holding National Defense plans and streams of bombers flying to the front. Pasted over the illustration in the top corner is an addition to the ad:

God Bless America, This Store Owned and operated by AMERICAN-CHINESE

The copy reads:

Looking Ahead to 1952
NATIONAL DOLLAR STORES Are not in business just for today…or tomorrow. THROUGH serving out customers to the best of our ability NOW—we know we will be serving them ten years from now—1952.
America is in the war to win—and all of us must do our part to bring VICTORY as soon as possible.
We too at the National are doing our part—to maintain the highest quality merchandise, and lowest possible prices. Buy defense stamps with the extra savings!

The National Dollar Store in San Luis Obispo was located in the Carissa Building at 736-732 Higuera Street. Next door, up street from the Frog and Peach pub the building houses a clothing store formerly a surf shop.
The advertisement turned out to be true, the store was in business a decade into the future. According to Guy Crabb’s book on Higuera Street it was there from 1940-1965.

Location of the former National Dollar Store between Frog and Peach and Gold Concept on Higuera Street. David Middlecamp/The Tribune

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