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8/10/2003

The beauty of bargains

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — “In the afternoons, we’re slammed,” Sarah Castaneda, store manager at Family Dollar, said
as she helped a steady stream of customers go through the checkout line Friday morning. “It’s kind of slow in here now — if you can call this slow.”

For a company that netted more than $4 billion last year, Family Dollar likes to do things on the cheap — and its customers respond. Since opening in Longmont at Ninth Avenue and Coffman Street the week before Easter, Castaneda said business has been booming.

“This store is in a really good location because it’s right in the middle of town,” she said while bagging motor oil, toys and bath mats for customers.

Most of what Family Dollar sells could be referred to as staples — things like tissue paper, laundry baskets, charcoal, diapers and table fans. But there are always new things on the shelves — “All the time; it’s constantly changing,” Castaneda said — and everything is discounted. That’s the secret to the North Carolina-based chain’s success.

“I think that would be our highest-priced item right now,” Castaneda said, referring to a set of $30 bedding linens.

Family Dollar is not the only place in Longmont where bargain hunters prowl.

Ann Hall, owner of Ann’s Upscale Resale for the past six years, said the sour economy definitely has affected business — as in, “great — amazing!”

“Last month, we had 118 new consigners in here, which blew my mind,” she said. “People who had never consigned anything in here before. And almost all of our consigners are buying from us.”

People who bring merchandise into Ann’s for consignment receive 40 percent of what the item fetches from a buyer. While she started out primarily doing women’s clothing, Hall said she has stretched her inventory to include household and decorative items.

“That was really good because it broadened our base of who wants to shop here,” said Hall.

She said she is picky about what merchandise she will accept — “no spots, no stains” — and that has helped establish a reputation as a business where people can expect to find quality.

At Front Range Indoor Flea Market, which has more than 75 vendors who consign merchandise, co-owner Marj Sater said the customer dictates what kind of merchandise the store carries. The store can adapt with the economy — in good times or bad.

“For example, whereas before you might have sold a $400 dresser, now you’re looking at selling a $250 dresser,” said Sater, who has co-owned the store for 14 years.

Front Range sells less expensive merchandise now than it did when the economy was booming, but that doesn’t mean business has slowed down, she said.

“I would say that now, people are more utilitarian-minded, and they’re buying more out of a need than a want,” Sater said. “We’ve known this for a long time: Shopping is a recreation. If they see something they like and it’s priced right, they’ll buy it.”

There may be no more recession-proof business than a pawn shop. In good times or bad, people are walking through the door — although for different reasons, according to Lori Brandenberg of Grandpa’s Pawn & Gun.

“We’re lucky with our business in that it kind of see-saws, and that’s what I love about pawn shops,” Brandenberg said. “We’re a banking business — in the sense that we do loans — a retail store, and a storage business.”

Her store can be a telling barometer when it comes to the state of the overall economy, Brandenberg said.

“Pawn shops make money off their interest,” she said. “If the economy’s really bad, people can’t afford to come back in and buy their stuff back, and then we have to sell it. And so then, we’re sitting on the merchandise because people can’t afford to buy anything.

“But we haven’t had that happen yet — it hasn’t been that bad.”

Sater seconded Brandenberg’s comments: “We felt some of the slowdown in the early part of the year, but we can feel the economy coming back now.”

So maybe things are looking up. Regardless, you can bet that some people who have discovered the beauty of bargains will likely keep searching for them, even after the economy turns rosy again.

“Hopefully, people who shop here will continue to when things get good,” said Hall. “You’ll never run out of things to do with your money. No sense paying too much.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.