Many bull and bear markets ago, my freshman economics professor in college assigned E.F. Schumacher’s book of essays called “Small Is Beautiful: A Study in Economics as if People Mattered.” I am reminded of his appreciation for small business when I shop in local one-off, free-standing outlet stores.
The deals in these stores are often better than in outlet malls with 100 stores. And I can park near the front door. Here are some favorites of mine and other frugalistas in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas:
• My nomination for the most overlooked outlet is the Herberger’s Clearance Center (1731 Beam Av., Maplewood, 651-777-6134). During a visit two weeks ago, most of the spring/summer clothes for men, women and kids were being closed out for $8 or less, regularly $20 to $80 in the full-priced store. Another upshot? None of the merchandise is special purchase. Everything is from the full-priced Herberger’s or other stores in the parent company Bon Ton.
The store, which is Herberger’s only clearance center, just opened last year. Store manager Brian Schinke said it’s off to an “unbelievable” start. Housewares and bedding departments are strong, but the men’s department does gangbuster business, he said. Brand names (Chaps, Ruff Hewn, Jones New York, DKNY and Osh Kosh) aren’t as high-end as the superlative Opitz Outlets in Minnetonka and St. Louis Park, but discounts are often better. For more savings, ask for coupons.
• Who’s a better judge of thrifty places for home remodeling projects than a house flipper? Robin Staloch of Wayzata thinks that Building Materials Outlet (3045 Sibley Memorial Hwy., Eagan, 651-454-8840, www.bmomn.com) is the handy person’s candy store. A regular customer for the past decade, she likes the low prices on windows, doors and wood trim. The warehouse and lumberyard spread out over 250,000 square feet. Recent acquisitions include more windows (a popular item for people building cabins from scratch), porcelain tile, pavers and retaining wall stone. Note: All purchases have a 12 percent buyer’s premium added. There are also online auctions.
• The newly expanded Room & Board outlet (4600 Olson Hwy., Golden Valley, 763-529-6089) is hands down the most popular of the Twin Cities’ furniture outlets. Each Saturday and Sunday morning, scores of fans driving European sedans and sipping lattes storm the entrance at the opening. Nearly the entire collection shows up sooner or later — sofas, chairs, patio furniture, accessories, bookcases, desks and rugs. If the first markdown of 30 percent or so doesn’t cut it, show up the following weekend and it may have gotten an additional one.
• If you’re looking for more modern furnishings, try the new Blu Dot outlet (1323 Tyler St. NE., Mpls., 612-354-7964). Smaller than the Room & Board outlet, it’s a welcome addition to Blu Dot’s philosophy that modern furniture should be less exclusive and less expensive. The outlet has discounts of 20 to 70 percent on samples, prototypes, returns and discontinued styles. Mob scenes are expected this opening weekend.
• If you’re heading south, don’t miss the seconds in the Faribault Woolen Mill store (1500 2nd Av. NW., Faribault, 507-412-5510, www.faribaultmill.com). Full-priced blankets, throws, scarves and accessories are there, too, but seconds and discontinued styles or colors are 40 percent off. It’s a scenic 45-minute drive from the metro for an iconic made-in-Minnesota brand. Closed Sundays.
• On the subject of picturesque drives and icons, Bargain Bill’s (2106 19th St., Rice Lake, Wis., 715-234-3505, www.bargainbillsinc.com) comes highly recommended by deal spotter Hollie Yeager of Minnetonka. On rainy days at the family cabin in Cumberland, she hunts for deals at the massive warehouse with something for everyone. It has household items, cleaning supplies, kitchenware, snacks and candy, pet items and crafts. “It’s a scrapbooker’s dream,” she said. “The furniture and flooring aren’t rock-bottom prices, but people with cabins nearby like that they deliver.”
If I missed some favorite bargain spots in the metro area or near the cabin, send me your picks for a possible follow-up.