From Nordstrom to Big Lots - A Rebirth in Shopping 101
My husband, Tim, and I spent the other day visiting every discount home furnishings and thrift store that sold furniture in our area. “Big deal” I hear you say. Ah, but it is.
In my previous life (same life physically but very different emotionally) I shopped very little; I didn’t have time. Bargain hunting wasn’t a concept I understood or cared to. If I needed or wanted something I ordered it online (I knew the UPS and FedEx drivers’ dogs’ names) or ran to the mall.
I would walk into a store that carried whatever I was after, grab it and head to the checkout. I didn’t pay any attention to sales or clearances or even price tags too often.It’s not like I was rich. I was a hands-on business owner. Tim and I each put in 70+ hours a week. Add to that two kids involved in 3 sports each as well as being a board member of two non-profit organizations and my cup runneth over. Shopping was not a priority.
All that changed when our business became a fatal statistic of the economic recession. (That sounds more poetic than “we went bust”.) That last evening, when Tim and I walked through the building, checking the locks on doors and windows and making sure we didn’t leave anything personal behind, we didn’t speak. It was a nightly ritual for 12 years but the next evening we would not be the ones performing it. We knew we would never re-open for a day’s business. When we drove away that night, we went straight to the bank and handed the keys and alarm codes over to the officer in charge of our defaulted mortgage (we agreed to a “Deed in Lieu” deal). And that would be it for us and our family owned business. We ended up moving 1,000 miles south to live with my divorced brother in his 2 bedroom apartment (on the 3rd floor, no elevator of course).
5 people in about 1,000 square feet (though I swear the management office counts every closet and cabinet as livable space). Every other weekend, my nephews join us bringing the resident count to 7. Bedtime looks like 4AM after a bachelor party -- bodies everywhere.
We’ve been living like this for 8 long months. Tim finally landed a job in April, thank the Lord, but the pay is not where it should be; that’s the result of “too many jobless, not enough jobs” scenario. We are bringing home less than half what we used to. With some creative bookkeeping and lots of ramin noodles, we are finally getting our own apartment. Yippee!
Now, our major problem is we have nothing to furnish the place - no beds, couch, kitchen table and chairs, dishes, pots, silverware, towels, and so on. We sold everything. We have clothes but that’s about it.Enter - Bargain shopping. I figured my first step into the unknown discount shopping world was to make a POA. I feel better and more productive if there is a clear path and goal. I surfed the internet for all the discount home stores and thrift shops in the area. I had NO IDEA there were so many. I consulted a local Google map and charted our journey. We visited:
- T.J. Maxx
- Beall’s Outlet
- Home Goods
- Big Lots
- Old Time Pottery
- B.J.’s Wholesale Club
- Discount Mattress Barn
- Salvation Army Thrift Store
- 2nd Home Store by St. Vincent de Paul
- 2nd Hann Thrift Store
- Angels Thrift Shop
- Goodwill Thrift Store
Yes, it was quite an education. We didn’t end up purchasing anything just doing some reconnaissance. Tim is not a shopper either but by the end of the day he was surprised to realize he had fun. Go figure.
Tim went back to work the next day and I ventured out on my own, revisiting some of the places I had marked as good prospects. My best bargain purchase was found only 2 miles from me at a local thrift shop. We had just been here but I knew from their sign their inventory changed daily.
I walked in and scanned for the best place to start. I ruled out the drapery, bathroom linens and bed linens. I just can’t get past using sheets or towels from an unknown source. I also ruled out the aisle with appliances since the apartment comes equipped with those. I chose the living room/bedroom furniture area as a good starting point. I wasn’t really interested in dressers and chests. The apartment’s closets are large enough to hold our clothing so dressers were not a priority.
I moved along to the couches and chairs. Several of the love seats and sofas had huge patterns of palm leaves and tropical flowers. Others were very Victorian sporting cherry wood, delicately curved legs. Neither were my type thing. That row was a bust. I turned down the next row and ran smack into a super overstuffed, “leather-like” monstrosity. No appeal there either. I just wanted a clean lined, normal stuffed sofa. I had to watch the price as well since my budget had to include a professional steam cleaning (Tim and I both insisted on this). On the last row, with a quick glance, I realized there was no hope for a sofa today.
I moved along to the middle of the store. Behind the counter area, I remembered they had some tables and chairs. I saw the same ones from yesterday; most too large for the small dining area of the apartment. There were a couple of battered patio sets but not what I wanted.
As I was leaving the area, I noticed a blonde wood, square table top leaned on edge against a glass showcase. I guessed it was around 42” or so. Perfect size. I walked over to have a look at the backside. It had a butterfly leaf system. Cool, turns from a square into a rectangle to allow for company.
On that side of the table I noticed 4 counter height chairs, also blonde wood. Hmmmm. The seats were a factory microsuede beige fabric and heavily stained. But, the wood was in pretty good shape even if 2 chairs were missing a foot rail. I tested one for sturdiness. It passed. I spotted the table legs next to the top. All 4 were there along with their nuts and bolts ready to be reassembled to the table top.
After deciding all the parts were present and accounted for, I needed to look at the price tag. I knew it was taped to the top side of the table, but was afraid to look. This solid wood set was surely expensive even in a thrift store. We had seen some of the cheap wood-like sets at the discount stores. The least expensive one was $199, out of my price range.
I walked to the front side of the table, ripped the price tag from its spot and clutched it to my bosom. I closed my eyes in silent prayer. I thrust the tag in front of my face and opened my eyes. I blinked; first in astonishment and second in disbelief. I had to be reading this wrong or maybe it had been marked incorrectly. It read $54.99 - 5 piece set. Holy Shit!
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and glanced up to see a couple headed toward the chairs to MY set. My adrenaline was pumping and I was in mother hen mode. I bolted to the check out. I stood there tapping my toes as the old woman in front of me tried to decide which doily she wanted. “Hurry up” I was thinking, sure that like the assignment note from Mission Impossible, the price tag was going to self destruct in 10 seconds and I would lose out. I counted to ten but nothing happened. The little old lady made her decision, paid and moved on.
I placed the price tag on the counter so the clerk could read it. She peered at it and said “Which table set is this for?”
I started to point to my fabulous find when another female clerk walks up and says to my clerk “Where is the price tag for the light colored wood table and 4 chairs? These people think they want it.”
Slacked mouthed, feeling my limbs turn to rubber, I anguish that my fabulous find is slipping from my grasp.
I swallow around the lump in my throat wave the price tag in the air and say “I have it right here. I am in line to pay for it.”
I look from clerk to clerk; they shrug shoulders and clerk number two turns to the couple and says “Sorry. It’s sold.”
I hear an angelic chorus of “Hallelujah” from somewhere in the distance. My God, thank you. Score one for the home team. This bargain shopping stuff is kinda fun!