Metro-East Living

After 21 years, it’s time for me to put away the shopping bag

Three-tier storage for $29.99 at TJ Maxx in Fairview Heights.
Three-tier storage for $29.99 at TJ Maxx in Fairview Heights.

Well, I’m packing up my tote bag and comfy shoes and saying good-bye to all of you bargain hunters. I am retiring from the News-Democrat after 34 years here. My last day is Aug. 8. So, this is my final shopping column.

I started writing this column in June 1996. I think 21 years is a pretty good run for someone who was paid to go out on Tuesday afternoons and wander through stores for a couple hours and then tell you about it! It was a lot of fun and I hope I provided some worthwhile tips on where to find everything from weird birthday gifts for dad to practical back-to-school supplies.

Raised as a devoted searcher of yellow (clearance) tags on merchandise, and never hesitant to rummage through a bargain bin, I admit that writing about retail shopping was part of my calling as a journalist. For more than two decades I helped out bewildered husbands who needed anniversary gift suggestions, found obscure bobby pins for senior ladies and hopefully entertained (and sometimes warned) about silly merchandise no one in their right mind should buy.

When I started working on the column, people inside stores looked at me as though I were a spy when I snapped photos with my point-and-shoot camera. Sometimes I even got booted out by the management. Can you imagine that happening today when I pull out my phone (like everyone else) and click away? No one looks twice anymore.

Retailers seldom knew what I’m doing, which has always been what I wanted. I’ve rarely been recognized in big stores, despite the photo that appears here.

Not long after the column began appearing weekly (on a Friday in print for nearly all of its lifespan), I started getting calls from retailers asking how to get mentioned, or they were angry about not being mentioned. Then they got savvy and started emailing or calling me with information in advance when they had something special going on. And while that saved on legwork, it never replaced me actually going out and setting foot inside a business.

And while a lot of my time was devoted to big-box, chain and department stores, the small, homegrown retailers are the ones I will remember most fondly. They are the ones who welcomed me warmly and worked with me. They also are the ones who deserve our attention and dollars. So, shop small and thank you to the Belleville merchants, especially Peace By Piece, Ben’s, Circa, Keil’s Antiques, Toot’s, Grimm & Gorly, Basket Case, Don Rodgers and others.

I’ve got just a few items for this last column:

I discovered The Wooden Ladder this week, quite by accident. I didn’t realize it had moved from one location in Fairview Heights to another at 10800 Lincoln Trail, across from Old Time Pottery. It’s a lovely store with lots of Americana crafts, vintage goods and some antiques. I was especially taken with the 9-by-13 cake pans with laser-engraved personalized metal lids. Cost is $29.95. What a great gift idea for the baker in your family or a thank you to that coworker who always brings cake to the office. Call the store at 618-394-2060 for more information, but I’d pay a visit; it’s really great inside. The Wooden Ladder is also on Facebook.

A stop in nearby TJ Maxx produced two college back-to-school items: In the checkout lane, check out the $7.99 tall travel cups sporting “GO! SIUE Cougars” in red. Plus, I spied a pair of really cute plastic and metal three-drawer (in green) bathroom storage organizers, each $29.99. One had gold metal and the other silver.

At Schnucks in Swansea, pick up a half-price end-of-summer deal: A mesh sling hammock with a powder-coated metal frame, pillow, accessory bag and adjustable overhead canopy for $49.99.

Bed, Bath & Beyond in Fairview Heights has a double-sided over-the-door mirror with a smaller dry erase board for $19.99. Seems like a must-have for that first dorm room.

If you have particular and fashion-savvy teens you need to buy for, check out the selection of footwear at Shoe Carnival in Fairview Heights. Yes, you’ll find Skechers, Adidas and Fila, but also so-cool Vans, Rocket Dog, classic Converse and Sperry. Lots of price reductions now through Sept. 5.