By Sue Botos
Just like the five and dime stores of days gone by, dollar stores have become a fixture in most communities, drawing shoppers from all income levels looking for a good deal.
At first glance, Just-A-Buck, the newly opened store in Rocky River’s River Plaza on Center Ridge Road, seems to be a typical dollar outlet, stocked with merchandise such as party supplies, health and beauty aids, baby products, housewares, hardware, toys, candles and candy. Workers busily stock shelves, clean and answer customer questions.
But there is more to the store than stretching a dollar. Through a partnership between the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities and SAW Inc., Just-A-Buck offers job training and work experience to people with developmental disabilities.
The Rocky River store is the third Just-A-Buck franchise to employ individuals served by the board of developmental disabilities in the Cleveland area. The first opened in Parma’s Midtown Shopping Center in 2009, and the second at the Maymore Shopping Center in South Euclid in 2011. No price tags are needed because everything sold in the New York-based stores is no more than a dollar.
“We hire and train people, then move them on to other employment, or if they prefer, they can stay in retail,” explained Kim Pritchard, who manages the three stores and was on hand for the June 27 Rocky River ribbon cutting. She added that each store is staffed by 15 employees, a store manager, three shift managers and a job coach. Each worker must be a high school graduate, and Pritchard said there is a summer program for those still in school.
Employees are paid minimum wage, and are responsible for managing their paychecks and their work schedules. Pritchard said that assessments are conducted at least twice monthly to measure the progress of each individual.
Through a contract with the board and SAW Inc., one of the largest employers of people with developmental disabilities in Ohio, the men and women are hired to perform every job in the store, including stocking, cleaning, cashiering and receiving.
One of those employees, Sara Schultz or “Sara Bell” to store manager Denise Auvil, is a Just-A-Buck veteran, having started out with Auvil at the Parma store in 2009. When asked what she does at the store, Schultz replied, “Everything!” She added that there is never a shortage of work to be done, such as the emptying and cleaning of shelves.
According to Auvil, the nearly 5,000-square-foot store is well-situated in the fully occupied strip center.
Information from the board stated that SAW Inc. researched various franchise opportunities and carefully investigated Just-A-Buck before making the 10-year commitment to ownership. Aside from the dollar stores, SAW also operates HeARTworks, which sells artistic items handmade by employees, and Cleveland Crops, which runs several urban farming sites in Cleveland, Seven Hills, Parma and Olmsted Township.
The Board of Developmental Disabilities is supported by a countywide property tax plus state and federal funds. About 60 percent of the cash flow comes from a 3.9-mill continuing levy approved in 2005.
Mayor Pam Bobst, who helped cut the ribbon on the new shop along with employees and managers, thanked everyone involved with the store for working patiently with the building department to navigate the sometimes complicated maze of permits. “This creates an opportunity for individuals to learn skills and have meaningful work,” Bobst stated.