We spent New Year’s Eve in Atlantic City, with The Sexy Armpit’s Jay and his girlfriend Corinne. All I really remember is punching balloons and getting my ass handed to me at three card poker. And walking past some guy that I swore was Johnny Torrio from Boardwalk Empire, even if, in my heart, I knew he wasn’t.
The trip was a private misadventure amongst friends — not something I planned to write about. That all changed in the morning hours. Curing our hangovers with cherry Powerade, we attacked the boardwalk with just one thing in mind:
The Atlantic City boardwalk is full of incredible crap shops. I’ve been providing proof of this for more than a dozen years. This time, though, we landed at the crap shop to end all crap shops. The ULTIMATE crap shop..
Or, more accurately… THE BEST 99 CENT STORE EVER.
I recognized it straight away. It was the same 99 cent store that I used to go to as a newly minted teenager, back when my parents practically lived at the Trump Taj Mahal. It hadn’t changed at all, and I cannot mean that more literally. The stuff that was inside this store… was the same stuff that was inside this store twenty fucking years ago.
At first, none of us realized that we were surrounded by treasure. We were finding good things, but nothing terribly outrageous. Fifteen minutes must have passed when Jay casually announced that they were selling Dennis the Menace pinball games from 1986. Moments later, I found a Kevin Nash air freshener from 1998.
From that point on, it was complete joyous lunacy. Our eyes were open and we were ready to see the truth. This place was COVERED with amazing shit. Everywhere we turned, there was a new reason to scream.
I think this photo sums it up:
Ghostbusters II keychains, from 1989. They were bookended by rubber gloves and makeup sponges, but they were, unquestionably, Ghostbusters II keychains from 1989.
I mean, holy shit.
The whole store was filled with things like that. Sometimes an item would be right out in the open. Other times, you needed to dig. There was an entire second room that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since three presidents ago, and the more we dug, the more we found.
By the time we were through, there was no doubt in my mind:
This was the best 99 cent store EVER.
Jay and I decided to split the duties. Below are my ten favorite finds. When you’re through here, go check out his ten favorite finds. That’s twenty amazing and amazingly old things, all from one random Atlantic City junk shop. I love this place like I will someday love my children.
#1: Sega Saturn Unauthorized Game Secrets!
This book originally retailed for fifteen bucks, and it is ENORMOUS. 342 pages’ worth of tips for Sega Saturn games, complete with grainy screenshots. (The screenshots are how I came to learn that one of the enemies in Parodius resembles a female moai. Now I have a new favorite video game.)
#2: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Temporary Tattoos!
Limiting this list to ten items meant I had to leave out some Power Rangers finds, but this one had to be my favorite. “Temptoos” from 1994!
2014 is brand new, and yet I sit here confident that my ownership of the “Putty Patrol” tattoo will keep me in a good mood until next year.
This was one of the few noteworthy items that the store had multiples of. I could’ve went home with dozens of Putty Patrol tattoos. If the poker dealers didn’t have such intense hatred for me the night before, I totally would’ve.
#3: Water Pager!
Most of my friends had beepers. Even if I wanted to be a part of their club, I knew better than to ask my parents. I had absolutely no reason to own one, and it obviously would have been a mere fashion accessory. (I already blew those sorts of scams earlier in my youth — like when I wanted glasses so badly that I intentionally flunked an eye exam. “You mean to tell me you can’t read the E? The big giant letter on top?”)
Eventually, I found one in the street. It was dirty and nonfunctioning. Half of the belt clip was broken off, leaving a slice of sharp plastic that I could’ve easily whittled soap with.
I wore it anyway.
Let me assure you: Nothing makes the neighborhood kids turn on you faster than wearing a dirty broken beeper to the schoolyard.
#4: WCW/nWo Air Fresheners!
Air fresheners are usually themed to reflect whatever they’re intended to smell like, so I guess this is how you make a car smell like Kevin Nash. They had tons of pro-wrestling air fresheners available. Despite the stickers clearly indicating that they were supposed to be three for 99 cents, the lady insisted that this wasn’t the case.
I bought them anyway, because getting even one Goldberg air freshener for 99 cents is still a miracle.
#5: Ghostbusters II Keychains!
AND THERE THEY ARE. THE GHOSTBUSTERS II KEYCHAINS. YES I BOUGHT ALL OF THEM. OF COURSE I BOUGHT ALL OF THEM! ACTUALLY, I LET JAY BUY ONE FOR HIMSELF, BECAUSE IT WOULD’VE BEEN CRUEL NOT TO. EITHER WAY, WE CLEANED THOSE FUCKERS OUT.
I found these pretty late into the trip, and holy God, I cannot remember the last time I gasped so dramatically. It seriously sounded like I’d just spent fifteen minutes trapped underwater, and was finally taking my first safe breath. It was the kind of gasp that draws the attention of everyone near you, even if they’re complete strangers.
With all eyes on me, I could only do what came naturally: Take fifty pictures of old keychains while whispering “ohmygod ohmygod.”
They’re beautiful, but it’s the packaging that really sells ‘em. Specifically, that dripping slime “keychain” font. Ohmygod ohmygod.
I left with ten in all. Just as someone at Bally’s was winning fifty grand, I knew I’d hit the real jackpot.
#6: Prism Silver Glow Stickers!
Probably the oldest of my many old finds, they reminded me of the non-book things that I used to buy from book club order forms.
Also, nothing better exemplifies the “see and say” concept than pairing the word “fantastic” with a teddy bear riding a goddamned unicycle.
#7: Petite Miss Designer Compact Set!
While made in 1990, this is just so unbelievably ‘80s. Can someone tell me what happens to makeup when it gets ancient? Is this simply a “best not to use it” situation, or more of an outright “idiot you’ll poison your eyelids” deal?
The makeup doesn’t look nearly as old as it is. It hasn’t dried out at all. I think they chose the Saturn and moon-shaped compartments because those are the exact symbols that appeal to the gods capable of giving makeup eternal lastingness.
#8: Space Target Battle Game!
HOLY COW, THIS THING. First off, it’s HUGE. It feels like something that would’ve been sold for five bucks even in its prehistoric heyday. (Given the theme and the decorations, I have to believe that it’s from the early ‘80s. Maybe even the ‘70s. The Star Wars vibe is just too strong.)
Would you look at that package design? The TIE Fighters in the upper left! The three scoring targets, starring Almost Stormtrooper, Almost R2-D2 and Medieval Darth Vader! The random red helicopter! AHHH!!!
The set comes with three little action figures, and I know that they resemble existing characters, even if I can’t place them. I’ll let that be your job. Tell me who those pastel warriors are meant to mimic.
This may have been my favorite purchase. It’s just so bizarre and handsome. I will tack it up in a place of prominence.
UPDATE: Several readers have pointed out that the figures resemble the main mecha from Brave Raideen — which would mark this as a toy from the ’70s!
#9: Garfield Door Hanger!
Garfield was all over that store, but this was my favorite fat cat find. Well, duh.
Now I can clarify that my room is my room with a picture of Garfield.
Nice penmanship, guy. I bet it’s hard to write with a 27” pencil.
#10: Sonic the Hedgehog Party Centerpiece
If the Ghostbusters keychains were the knockout punch, this Sonic the Hedgehog centerpiece was the second, completely unnecessary knockout punch, thrown with zero regard for sportsmanship. But in a good way.
The store only had one of them, buried deep within a giant display full of party decorations. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m going to pretend that I’m careful enough to makes its honeycombed base remain in this condition for the rest of my days. (It’ll be on the floor in eight pieces by the time I hit “publish.”)
Pretty amazing haul, no? And keep in mind, this isn’t even everything. I bought around another ten items, and most of them are just as amazing as these. (Like Masked Rider party hats, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.)
Remember to check out Jay’s just-as-incredible finds over at The Sexy Armpit. I’ll be honest. If I had it my way, I would’ve traded some of my stuff for his. It kills me that he found the Moon Stalker DVD before I did.
This was absolutely the best dollar store I’ve ever been in. (Okay, 99 cent store. It’s the same thing.) What makes it all the more special is that it’s the SAME ONE I USED TO GO TO, OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO. Some of these items are things that were ACTUALLY THERE when I went here as a kid. I feel like such a lucky mofo. I still can’t believe that this happened. It’s the kind of strangely stupid wonderful thing that I live for. Yes. Yes yes yes.
PS, let me pay it forward. Everyone who comments on this post, use a valid email address. I’ll raffle off two of the Ghostbusters keychains. Offer is only good for those who provide actual real comments, and not “hey put me in gb game” comments. Deadline is 11:59 PM EST Friday. Good luck!
UPDATE: The deadline has passed and we have our winners! Congrats to spooky and Rachael J. — you each one a dusty keychain!