A single parent with three children, Crystal Dixon pushed her cart through a Killeen Dollar General store aisle selecting canned goods.

“It meets my needs and has all the things I need at reasonable prices, so it helps me a whole lot,” Dixon said.

Local shoppers flock to nearby discount stores like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and Dollar General to make everyday purchases.

The area from Nolanville to Copperas Cove is dotted with multiple smaller discount stores. Dollar General has 16 stores, Family Dollar operates 15 stores and Dollar Tree has three stores. By comparison, Wal-Mart has three Supercenters and H-E-B has four grocery stores.

Recently, Dollar Tree announced a $8.5 billion merger with Family Dollar. The

deal would make Dollar Tree the biggest player in the dollar store segment, with its more than 13,000 combined locations, according to the Associated Press. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, is opening even more smaller store formats to compete with dollar stores. In 1998, it introduced the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, a smaller store focusing on grocery items with easier parking, less crowded aisles and quicker checkout. While the average Wal-Mart Supercenter is 182,000 square feet, a Neighborhood Market is about 38,000 square feet. A Wal-Mart Express is 12,000 square feet, about the size of a dollar store.

A new 41,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is scheduled to open later this summer near the intersection of Farm-to-Market 2410 and Stillhouse Lake Road in Harker Heights. It will offer fresh produce, meat and dairy products, bakery and other household supplies and a pharmacy.

Clothing to cat food

Bargain hunter and Sam’s Club shopper Shirley Gomez still looks for the best product at the best price and prefers Family Dollar, which offers everything from clothing to cat food. She bought a $20 item at a local Ross Dress for Less store and then found the same item at Family Dollar for only $12.

“I like to shop at Family Dollar because they are way cheaper and have a whole lot more to choose,” Gomez said.

While the larger stores offer more selections, they also come with congestion issues that drive many shoppers to their competitors.

Sarah Widgren recently relocated from California and visited a local Family Dollar store for the first time. She instantly liked the cozier environment.

“I don’t care for larger stores with lots of people, but I like this one,” Widgren said.

Citing crowded parking lots and long lines, especially on pay days, Irene Garcia takes advantage of the Family Dollar stores around town.

“There seems to be a store on most streets making it so easy to get in and out with no waiting,” Garcia said.

A frequent Dollar Tree shopper, Larry Noel mostly buys the necessities, but also likes to gets toys and games for his kids.

“You can get all the items at one stop in these discount stores,” Larry Noel said.

Customer engagement

A recent example of the smaller store format is the Dollar General on Watercrest Road in Killeen that opened in June. Its 9,000-square-foot store allows for more products and a larger cooler area for frozen foods.

Christy Duncan, store manager, describes it as a community store where customers get what they want and when they need it, plus more personal attention.

“We’re engaging with our customers by getting to know them and what they like to buy, so they feel this is their neighborhood store,” Duncan said.

The convenience of such stores is a major factor in helping consumers decide where to shop.

“I can save a trip coming to Dollar General since I live close and not get in traffic, so I save gas, too,” Yohance Richardson said.

With a handbasket of bottled water, Killeen resident Andrew Martin said he shops almost daily at the Dollar General nearest to his residence.

“Prices are better than at a convenience store, and sometimes cheaper than Wal-Mart,” Martin said.

Most shoppers at all three discount chains agreed that they limit their bigger grocery shopping at H-E-B or Wal-Mart to once or twice a month and fill the void with trips to the discount stores. Calling it a “jump in, jump out” shopping experience.

“There’s a lot to choose from, and I think its like a mini Wal-Mart, but faster,” said local shopper Gilberto Pargrn.

As a mother of three, LeAnna Penn doesn’t mind paying a little more on certain items.

“Things like diapers are a little more expensive at Dollar General, yet it’s so close to home that the extra cost is worth it,” Penn said, adding she also buys art supplies at Dollar Tree for her daycare work.

Kathleen Ernst, a teacher at Clifton Park Elementary School and her daughter, Kaylin, 12, shopped for school supplies at Dollar Tree.

“With about 18 students, I like to find cheap items for use in my classroom, and I get a lot for my money here,” Ernst said.

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