Saturday, December 2, 2023

‘It’s addictive’ Columbus bargain shoppers seek hidden treasures at bin stores

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It’s Friday morning and a long line forms outside the Where Ya Bin store on Sawmill Road on Columbus’ Northwest Side near Dublin.

Inside the store are 128 waist-high blue plastic bins that, if surrounded by farm animals, might be mistaken as a feed troughs. Instead of grain, though, each “trough” is stacked high with merchandise, most of it still in its original Amazon packaging.

When the doors open at 8 a.m., the grazing begins as bargain hunters surround each bin, some digging shoulder-deep, in hopes of an elusive find at a fraction of what they’d spend elsewhere.

At this consumerism-gone-wild theater, there are infant toys, wigs, dented boxes of birth control, shelving, lamps, books, towels, ostomy bags, hernia trusses and sex aids. Among the thousands of parcels are crates of snacks, energy drinks and vitamins. This cornucopia of capitalism includes virtually anything that can be purchased online.

There is the rare squeal when someone nabs a diamond ring, Apple watch or high-tech gadget. There also are groans. Much of the offerings people refer to as junk. All of it is there thanks to retailer overstocks, liquidations or customer returns.

Where Ya Bin’s company website lists nine locations, three in Ohio. The outlet at 6020 Sawmill Road on the Northwest Side opened in May.

A tractor-trailer of Amazon payload arrives weekly, unloaded behind the store. All items are $14 on Fridays, dropping each successive day ($10 on Saturday, $7 Sunday) to just 25 cents on Thursdays. In a throw-away society, even the mauled-over rejects have value.

On Tuesday, $3 day, George and Linda Webb drove from Dublin, leaving after about an hour with a shopping cart filled with 18 packages: hardware fixtures and housewares.

“Christmas gifts,” said Mrs. Webb, proudly showing off several boxes of cork drink coasters with holders. She might later learn that the same coasters were still there on “quarter” day.

On that day, “you fill your cart up for four bucks,” said Mr. Webb.

Caution and restraint required

The store prohibits opening packages or peering inside. Frequent announcements warn: If you are seen doing so, you will be asked to leave for the day.

Instead there are opening stations where employees allow you to inspect and plug in electronics, try on clothing or shoes. Rolls of tape are used to reassemble packages and return them to bins.

The Webbs recently took a chance on a huge box of what they thought was risotto microwave meals.

“I thought it was a really good deal,” Mrs. Webb said. “But when we opened it up, it was baby food.” The middle-aged couple have no grandkids.

Store manager Taren Arakaki has a retail background, previously working at Burlington, an off-price department store. She had wanted to work at Goodwill Industries when the bins opportunity arose.

“My heart is for the people who can’t afford these products,” she said. “The moms who can’t afford to get their children presents.”

On busy days, the store sees 600 transactions a day, each customer with dozens of low-cost items.

Betty Mayes, 66, visits the store weekly on $1 Wednesdays, from her Hilltop home. Being on a fixed income, she’ll load up on vitamins and pet food to resell at flea markets. A typical haul will cost her up to $100.

“It’s fun because each week you’re going to find something different,” Mayes said.

Marysville resident Michelle Nicol, like Mayes, also living on Social Security benefits, found a crystal butterfly necklace for $1 that Amazon’s website had priced at $45.

“You get excited, pumped up, and you load up your cart,” she said. “It’s addictive. It’s awesome.”

Other low and no-cost options

There are a few other smaller bin stores in the area, including Rt. 42 Bargains, 235 S. Jefferson Ave., Plain City.

And even a free store. Yes free.

Common Ground Free Store, 193 E. Central Ave., Delaware.

The longtime store, which also provides free weekday meals, relies on donations from churches and foundations to operate. Just this year, there has been a 45% increase in customers.

“The need has become so great. Delaware is a very expensive place to live. You’re seeing some people just struggling to make ends meet,” said Sharon Griner, executive director at Common Ground. “We’re actively looking for a location to expand.”

Customers are asked to give their name and address, for grant-writing purposes, Griner said. There are no income requirements.

Read More: Delaware free store perseveres through pandemic

Goodwill Columbus Outlet, 2675 Brice Road, follows the bin theme, selling donated clothing and home goods by the pound.

Retailers, Goodwill stores and others donate the items that are replenished daily in blue bins.

Books are the price of bananas, 59 cents per pound; Everything else: $1.89 per pound, about the cost of fresh broccoli.

Kroger clearance

Brightly colored signs in most Kroger stores announce a trove of deep discount merchandise.

Some days there are newly stocked shelves of overstocked food or packaging that is slightly dented.

Like the bins store, anything is possible.

“Appliances to clothing to food,” said Tom, a supervisor at Kroger’s Graceland Marketplace store.

“They love it,” he said of customers.

The Crazy Coupon Lady website offers others tips and tricks to save at Kroger and elsewhere, including combining coupons that cut expensive teeth whitening toothpaste prices at Kroger to just 50 cents. (Maybe connected to a Kroger 90% Halloween candy clearance?)

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