"It's organizer heaven," said professional declutterer Susi McCune when asked about the Container Store and Storables in Edina. The Texas-based Container Store opened last month just a few blocks away from Storables on France Avenue in Edina. While the selection of shoe racks, sweater bins, closet and kitchen organization items boggles an already cluttered mind, frugalistas might be wondering if shoppers can't get all this at Target or Menards for a lot less.

McCune, a local professional organizer and owner of MessDistress.com, said yes and no. If you're looking for clear plastic storage containers of approximate size and average quality, you can't go wrong at a discounter. But if you want a certain color, more size choices and a step up in quality, the specialty stores are the way to go.

Hardware stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's have expanded their storage and organization options, too, said professional organizer Louise Kurzeka of Everything's Together. Bed, Bath & Beyond also has a great home storage section that's worth checking out, but McCune and Kurzeka agree that Storables and the Container Store are good starting points to get organization ideas, even if you end up buying elsewhere.

Still, organizing stores haven't been left holding the bags, bins and boxes. The home organization business has seen less of a downturn economically than have many other retailers, said Lori Gilmour, vice president at Storables. "People still want to make their homes comfortable," she said.

Sharon Tindell, chief merchandising officer at the Container Store, expects a good holiday season this year. "Our gifts are painfully practical. They're not always a good gift in good times, but the time is right for them now," she said.

Competition and consumers' frugal spending habits clearly have both local retailers scrambling to provide the best customer service. While customer service may be nonexistent at many retailers, it's laughably sublime on France Avenue. Six different Container Store employees asked if I needed help at a recent visit. At Storables it was attentive but more discreet. That's an important consideration if you're considering buying at big-box competitors where expertise is lacking.

Tindell said that Container Store employees get 240 hours of training their first year because it's important to explain the multiple uses of products that are not readily known by shoppers. "There is a lot of explaining," she said.

After recent visits to both stores, it appears that the new shop in town is garnering most shoppers' attention. In three visits, the Container Store had four or five times the number of shoppers as Storables. The Container Store seemed to attract almost as many male shoppers as female.

For Peter Campbell of Minneapolis, the Container Store feels more like a Home Depot, Storables more like a Pottery Barn. "Storables shows you the products in application. The Container Store devotes more space to a variety of products," he said. In looking for an accordion-style laundry drying rack, he shopped at both stores but found more options at the Container Store.

Most people I spoke with who had shopped at both stores preferred the Container Store, but not Andrea Godbout of Minneapolis. "It's easier to find stuff at Storables," she said. "The Container Store is more colorful but more distracting." High shelves at the Container Store, she added, make the store layout harder to navigate than Storables.

What about cost? McCune comparison-shopped 10 items and found that Storables' prices were slightly lower (by 50 cents to a dollar) on most items. I found one exception in which Storables was about $2 more expensive on a $10 water storage container, but Storables' prices usually were lower. Storables also has a price-matching policy. The Container Store has no formal policy but occasionally matches prices. To save money, check the accompanying chart for store sales. The highly regarded Elfa organization line, a Container Store exclusive, is discounted 30 percent starting Dec. 24. Storables' holiday storage sale starts Nov. 28.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com.