A dollar for your thoughts: One Dollar Market marks 25 years
MIDDLEBURY — The wares on the shelves of Middlebury’s One Dollar Market are wondrous and eclectic.
Cards, cookies, candlesticks, caulking guns, chips, dustbins and a mindboggling array of arts and crafts supplies.
And that only covers a small sampling of products beginning with the first four letters of the alphabet.
While the available items are constantly evolving based on consumer demand, one feature of the store has remained unchanged since the One Dollar Market opened in town 25 years ago: The owner, Farhad Khan.
A transplant from India by way of New York City, one could say Khan is emblematic of the diverse goods he sells to a largely homogenous Addison County population that has come to like, admire and respect him and his wife, Amtul, who shares time behind the register and in the aisles restocking shelves.
“Retail has been in my blood since I was a kid,” Khan said during a recent interview at his store, believed to be the only independently owned “dollar store” in Vermont. Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar are all corporate chain stores.
Khan patterned his career after his dad, who for many years operated a clock/watch repair shop in Hyderabad, India.
“I always said, ‘I want to be like him,’” he said of his father, who passed away in 1999.
Like generations before him, Khan found himself drawn to the United States and its rags-to-riches opportunities. And in 1991, he was granted permission to immigrate to NYC, where he spent a few years selling magazines and newspapers.
While grateful to be living in the U.S., he quickly soured on the Big Apple.
“I felt like I didn’t belong there,” he explained. “There were too many people, it was too busy, and the crime rate during the early 1990s was off the charts.”
He got his first taste of Vermont during a ski trip in 1992, and was immediately smitten.
“This is the place I want to be,” he thought. “Small towns.”
While he’d spent the vast majority of his life never seeing a snowflake, Khan learned to love winter weather. And he had a convenient path to the Green Mountain State — through his brother, who was planning to open a One Dollar Market in South Burlington.
He joined him in 1993, for two years.
Khan appreciated the opportunity, but wanted his own store. He found that opportunity in 1995 — in Middlebury, where he launched his One Dollar Market at 40 Court St., in the shopping center spot that now hosts the Subway sandwich shop.
“It did very well for us,” Khan said of the 2,000-square-foot location.
From those humble beginnings the brothers went on a tear — opening additional One Dollar Markets in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. By 2003, they had expanded into Indiana and Ohio. By 2005, their One Dollar Market mini-empire had grown to 21 stores.
Through it all, the Middlebury store remained Farhad Khan’s home base. He moved that enterprise in 2001 to its current location at 198 Court St. — which had previously hosted a liquor store. It tripled his available space, and ushered in an even more successful era for his enterprise, which took on greater importance after the local Ames Department Store closed in 2002.
But retail took a backseat to family life after 2002, when Farhad married Amtul. The first of their three children came soon thereafter. Khan wasn’t keen on maintaining the hectic schedule that his oversight of multiple stores demanded.
“I had to travel at the drop of a hat sometimes, and I just couldn’t stay away from the family,” he said. “We decided to scale back.”
He closed multiple stores, while creating a sound foundation for his Middlebury location. He was able to buy the building in 2009, thus assuring him 10,000 square feet of retail space for the long-term.
HOME IN THE COMMUNITY
The Khans have never regretted their decision. Just as the Middlebury community has invested in their store, so has the family invested in its adopted community. Farhad is in his second three-year term of service on the Middlebury selectboard. He’s former president of the Islamic Society of Vermont, and is participating in an effort to install a free clinic at the organization’s Mosque at 400 Swift St. in South Burlington.
Endowed with a bright smile, the gift of gab and a good memory, he’s the consummate neighbor and salesman.
Shoppers might come in just looking for a tube of glue, but more often than not they’ll also leave with a box of cookies, scissors, a tin of tarragon, shower curtains and a chew toy for their dog. The prices are that good, and the genial store-keeps are more than happy to show you around.
“The town of Middlebury, the college, and our loyal customers have been instrumental in our success,” Khan said. “We have customers that come from as far as St. Albans in the north to Rutland and beyond in the south. In the course of 25 years, we have developed a close friendship with many of our valued customers. Especially, during these trying times of COVID-19, people have been so supportive of our business.”
Indeed, for many people the One Dollar Market has been the Middlebury area’s go-to for budget-friendly party supplies, basic household items, toys, treats, stocking stuffers, and more.
Violet LaFountain and her family have been shopping at the One Dollar Market since it opened. She visits a couple times a month, and is particularly drawn to the store’s paint supplies, toys and assortment of Christmas gift wrap.
“I’ll go in and a week later, I’ve got to go back,” she said.
“I love the prices; you can’t beat it,” she said.
You can’t put a price on relationships, and she’s forged a good one with the Khans.
“I get to visit with some awfully nice people; Farhad and his wife are the best,” LaFountain said.
Lorraine Morse is another big fan of the One Dollar Market. She, too, has been a loyal customer from the get-go.
“I use it a lot for party supplies and kitchen stuff,” she said. “And once you get there, you have to browse. You just never know what you’re going to find there, and it’s always at a good price.”
Morse enjoys the banter with Farhad and Amtul — as did her mom, Barbara, who sadly passed away last year at age 98.
“She was a bargain hunter and a huge fan of that store,” Morse said.
She said the Khans deserve credit for the store, the family and civic pride they have brought to Middlebury.
“They’re standup people,” Morse said. “And it’s good to chat with Farhad, even if I don’t find what I need — which isn’t often.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.