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Deep discounts for damaged goods

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Kayla Bunge
September 11, 2008
— Cans of pineapple are dented.

Crumpled boxes of granola bars are taped closed.


Bags of tortilla chips are one month past their expiration date.


Bottles of salad dressing have black Xs marked on their labels.


Boxes of bandages are discolored.


The shelves at DJ’s Bent & Dent Groceries, 2571 Park Ave., aren’t attractive, but they’re stocked with non-perishable food items, personal hygiene products and household cleaning supplies at 40 percent to 75 percent less than regular grocery store prices.


Lisa Prentice, 38, of Janesville is among the growing ranks of people who’ve made shopping at discount grocery stores part of their weekly routine, pinching every penny they can as food prices have climbed.


Store owner Dana Schear said DJ’s, which opened Feb. 23, fills a need in an area where working families, senior citizens and others without a cent to spare have been forced to rethink their spending.


It didn’t take long for word about the store to spread in Rock County—Schear didn’t begin minimally advertising the store until July—and now she has a troop of regular customers.


Shoppers such as Prentice know a deal when they see one.


“I’m a bargain hunter by nature,” she said. “I try absolutely never to pay full price for anything.”


A can of Campbell’s Select soup that sells for more than $2 at Pick ’n Save goes for 75 cents at DJ’s. A box of Kashi cereal that sells for about $4 at Woodman’s goes for $1.75 at DJ’s. A compact of CoverGirl makeup that sells for almost $8 at Wal-Mart goes for $1.50 at DJ’s.


Prentice’s cart Friday was full of cupboard staples including six bottles of salad dressing, two boxes of granola bars and two taco dinner kits.


“You can’t go wrong here,” she said as she maneuvered her cart through the aisles.


Schear said most shoppers buy in multiples, sometimes dozens of bags, boxes and cans at a time.


She tries to price items at 50 percent less than Wal-Mart and Woodman’s, her benchmarks, she said. And if she has an ample supply of one item or if an item is out of date, she’ll mark it lower.


But discount shopping isn’t for everyone.


Shoppers must be willing to buy dinged up cans, banged up boxes and taped up packages. They must be willing to deal with unfamiliar brands. They must be willing to change their shopping list as the merchandise changes.


Prentice, who for $52.95 on Friday bought a cart-full of groceries that’ll last her family at least a month, said most important, people must consider discount grocery shopping an adventure.


“I always try to get the best bargain,” she said. “It’s fun for me. Going to these stores is like a treasure hunt for me.”


She said she hated grocery shopping before the discount store landed on her radar screen.


Prentice, a wife and stay-at-home mother of an 11-year-old daughter, said she shops first at DJ’s before perusing the grocery store circulars for sales on bread, milk and meat to supplement. But the store just started carrying meat from Sorg’s in Darien and cheese from Decatur Dairy in Brodhead, so she’s got fewer things to get elsewhere.


“I go there first to see what they have,” she said. “It’s always a changing scene there, so I see what I can stock up on.”


Prentice said a typical shopping trip yields a one- to two-month supply of groceries. She said she still makes a Wal-Mart run once a week, but she no longer does the majority of her shopping there.


“I can just load up my car, and I’m good to go for a while,” she said. “And I generally only spend $40 to $45. And it’s not just food.”


To price things at a discount, Schear works with a distributor of salvaged groceries to buy damaged goods, overstocked items and end-of-the-line products. A truckload brings dozens of banana boxes full of miscellaneous items to the store, where she and her employees spend hours sorting.


The merchandise is usually a casualty of the rough-and-tumble grocery business—items that fell off forklifts in a warehouse, items nearing their expiration dates and items rejected by overstocked stores.


The flaws don’t seem to deter shoppers who come to DJ’s looking to save money. The store was busy Friday afternoon, when Prentice pushed her cart up to the cash register, carefully placing her treasures on the counter.


“Like everyone else, (my family is) on a tight budget,” she said. “And here, I can really save a lot of money. I don’t care what the package looks like. I just check to make sure the damage isn’t too bad.”


Store modeled after another in Albany

Dana Schear said it was divine intervention that brought DJ’s Bent & Dent Groceries to Beloit.


She quit her job at Beloit Redi-Mix after 19 years, when her fifth child, a baby boy with Down syndrome, was born.


Schear said the baby, named Dannie Jr., is her “little angel.”


After being a stay-at-home mother for almost a year, she was itching to get back to work. But Dannie Jr. was receiving in-home physical, occupational and speech therapy, and she didn’t want to be away during those sessions; she was learning from the therapists what she could do on her own to help her son.


Schear had heard about Detweiler’s Bent and Dent, a salvage grocery store run by an Amish family in Green County.


Vernon Detweiler opened the store at W363 Atkinson Road, Albany, in 1999.


“It’s like coming to a flea market,” said store manager Char Ceder. “We never know what we’re going to get in. Every 10 to 14 days the merchandise changes.”


Items are priced 40 percent to 60 percent less than regular grocery stores, and the store carries a number of name-brand items—Starbucks coffee is quite popular—as well as organic and gourmet foods, she said.


The Detweilers follow strict guidelines for which damaged items are placed on the store shelves, Ceder said.


For example, canned goods must have their top, bottom and side seams intact, and boxes can be dented, discolored or torn, but the plastic packages inside must be sealed.


Schear thought she could open a similar store herself, a place where she could work and be close to her son and a business that would fill a great need in the community.


She beamed as 21-month-old Dannie Jr. sat on the counter near the cash register Friday.


“He can stay here with me,” Schear said. “And when he’s older, he can work in the store.”


She named the store DJ’s after her “little angel” because if it hadn’t been for him, she never would have opened the store, she said.


DISCOUNT GROCERY STORES
What: DJ’s Bent & Dent Groceries
Where: 2571 Park Ave., Beloit.
Phone: (608) 313-0545
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
What: Detweiler’s Bent & Dent Groceries
Where: W363 Atkinson Road, Albany.
Phone: (608) 897-2867
Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
PENNY PINCHING

For more ideas on how to save money on groceries, go to reporter Kayla Bunge’s blog post on the subject. Dozens of readers posted their money-saving tips in the comments section of the blog.


To read the blog and comments, go to http://gazettextra.com/weblogs/clock/2008/aug/19/plea-grocery-shopping-gurus.

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