Iconic Arlington business risks becoming another COVID Casualty

While some of us spent our break catching up on sleep, reclaiming summer jobs or counting the days until we returned to campus, Vassar students Iliana Jaime ’21, Dean Kopitsky ’22 [Full disclosure: Kopistky is a Senior Editor for The Miscellany News], Brooke Perlman ’23 and Miriam Rovin ’23 worked tirelessly to save a beloved Arlington staple: The Dollar Yard.

A small business nestled between Julie’s Restaurant and My Market, The Dollar Yard has been owned and operated by Rajesh Sehgal for the last two decades. His dream, which became a reality in 2001, was to provide quality and useful items, such as school supplies and toiletries, to college students on a budget. To Rajesh, The Dollar Yard is more than just a nine-to-five job: “It’s the bread and butter of my family,” he said.

Since about 80 percent of its business comes from college students, The Dollar Yard has been struggling to stay afloat since the beginning of the pandemic. Dalia Sanoff, a close friend of Rajesh as well as an affiliate mentor and advisor of Vassar College’s Chabad Jewish Community (CJC), shared with the CJC’s board that The Dollar Yard has suffered much more than other Arlington businesses this past year because it is primarily set up to meet the needs of college students. 

In an effort to help this business recover from significant losses, Sanoff connected Rajesh with the aforementioned Vassar students to create a website for his store. In approving this project, the CJC board provided tremendous support to a local POC-owned business, while also making it more accessible for Vassar students to safely purchase affordable products during the COVID-dictated school year. 

Rovin, CJC Social Justice Chair, was the driving force behind this project. Beginning in early December, Rovin and Rajesh collaborated to build and design a website from the ground up. Since this was Rovin’s first time creating a website, there proved to be a large learning curve. However, she attributes her success to having Sanoff and other CJC board members to share ideas with. While the website was in development, Rajesh continued to offer his support to the endeavor in any way possible and emphasized how grateful he was to continue doing business with Vassar students. “I am so thankful to the students who, within their own resources, built a website for me so that I could survive,” he expressed. After four weeks of hard work and collaboration, dollaroneyard.com was launched on Jan. 31.

As of Jan. 31, students are now able to place, pay for and pick up orders from The Dollar Yard on the same day. Orders are hand delivered by Rajesh in the parking lot between the Deece and Cushing. This free delivery system runs every Monday through Friday from 6 to 7 p.m. While dollaroneyard.com has all the store’s usual products such as school supplies, dorm decorations, over the counter medicines, personal hygiene products and the coveted campus clout items (i.e.: pink and blue b*tch hats), Rajesh has expanded his inventory based on students’ current needs. His stock now includes face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Even though the website has been up and running smoothly for nearly a month, Rovin continues to regularly upload new inventory online. 

Rovin’s social media posts about the launch have been flooded with likes, comments and reposts. Slowly but surely, the overwhelmingly supportive community response on social media has translated into more sales for The Dollar Yard. Both Rajesh and Rovin have been thrilled with the new website’s function and layout. Their hope is that this platform will serve as a catalyst for more purchases in the future. “This business is [Rajesh’s] livelihood and being able to contribute to its stability and success, even in just a small way, has been such a privilege,” said Rovin.

Sadly, The Dollar Yard is still far from being saved. While the website’s first few sales were extremely exciting for both Rajesh and the students involved in this project, the financial toll that this pandemic and the closing of campus took on The Dollar Yard is nearly irreversible. However, with every online sale, the store is one step closer to keeping its doors open another day. Instead of instinctively buying from exploitative companies such as Amazon, students are being offered a much better alternative in supporting The Dollar Yard, a pillar of the community. Plus, nothing beats same day delivery right to campus. “I’ve seen that line by the mailroom, no one wants to wait in that,” Kopitsky joked. 

Like other students who have taken advantage of The Dollar Yard’s free delivery service and acceptance of Arlington Bucks, Grace Skakel ’24 reported nothing short of exceptional service when she placed an order for tea, chocolate, school supplies and mouthwash. Although Rajesh was sold out of the type of tea she wanted, he wrote a kind email apologizing and promising to let her know when it would be back in stock. Skakel said of the interaction, “It was really sweet and beyond what I expected.” 

Rajesh and the CJC team hope that the Vassar College community will continue to support The Dollar Yard online now that in-person interactions are no longer possible for the foreseeable future. Kopitsky warns, “It’s really important that folks use this website or The Dollar Yard is going to be one of the many casualties of COVID-19.” While creating a website for The Dollar Yard is just one of the many steps necessary to keep this Arlington staple alive, it is a crucial one. Hopefully, this website will breathe new life into a business Rajesh has poured his heart and soul into for the past 20 years. 

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