I am, by nature, a bargain skeptic. I do not seek out sales, markdowns, or low, low discounts. So I approached the City of Hope's Town Fair Bazaar with a doubtful attitude. Could it be worth a special trip downtown? Were there real bargains there--my definition of "real" being something I would need or want even if it weren't cheap.
I was seduced--converted--by a bottle of Vidal Sassoon Finishing Rinse. The same bottle that I regularly shell out $4.69 for was 75 cents here. This was definitely a real bargain. I could have snapped up a dozen and gone home happy.
The Town Fair Bazaar, a fund-raising project of the City of Hope, is held once a month on the second floor of a warehouse in the Little Tokyo area. It feels like shopping in a Goodwill store even though most of the merchandise is brand new. Departments are separated by raw wood and chicken-wire walls. Not an unnecessary nickel goes to overhead. It is worth the effort if you are prepared to stock up on things like toiletries, detergents, desk supplies. One bargain-priced tube of toothpaste is not enough to justify the trip.
All the merchandise has been donated, much of it by grocery chains and department stores. The boxes of 50 Tylenol caplets are $2; 6.4-ounce tubes of Crest, $1. All vitamins are $1 a bottle. Actifed syrup (4 ounces) is $1. The Actifed still bore a retail-store price tag of $4.29. Many items have been pulled from retail store shelves because the packaging is slightly damaged, others because of a short expiration date. But I saw hundreds of perfect packages and plenty of over-the-counter medicines with an expiration date of at least a year away.
Line Forms at Dawn
Town Fair regulars line up well before the 9 a.m. opening, some as early as dawn. They are let inside in small batches to prevent pandemonium and, each month, the stock is decimated. I was told to expect that all the Vidal Sassoon, Tylenol, Crest, etc. would be sold this month (but there would be plenty more donations for April). Shoppers take an empty cardboard box from a pile and fill it with their finds. Each department has its own cashier (cash and personal checks only).
In the clothing departments, tables are piled high with distinctly non-couture items for men, women and children. But all the clothing is new except for the mink coats. Men's suede jackets were marked $25. Basic bras were marked $1 while gorgeous lacier ones (from a not-to-be-named Hollywood Boulevard lingerie shop) were $3.
Because appliances and small equipment are sold without warranty and usually without cartons, they are marked well below retail. Two dozen meat slicers were marked $5 each; Bobby Mac car seats, $15.
Then there are oddball offerings and one-of-a-kind things that not everyone will find a use for. Can anyone swoon for pastel ceramic tissue-box holders at any price? But the brand new, king-size down comforter covered in baby blue chintz is a bargain and for $50 just needs to find the right home. Paint in one- and five-gallon containers from a well-known paint company is $1 a gallon (whites slightly higher).
The stationery section seemed to come alive the more I poked around. Reams of paper, brightly colored stock suitable for flyers and such: $2. A box of 12 ballpoint pens: $1 (the box had 69 cents each printed on it); likewise for black felt pens: $2 per dozen for ones that retail for $1.49 each.
Like a Hardware Store
The hardware section, in the back corner, is a putterer's delight. It's like a large, messy hardware store, filled with everything from gold-plated towel racks to auto polish (40 cents).
The Town Fair Bazaar is held the second Saturday of every month. Every March, it expands to a three-day event (today, Sunday and next Saturday). In March only, the food section expands from a strictly canned and boxed food section to one with deli items. Dannon yogurts are 25 cents each. The 40-cent cans of artichoke hearts caught my eye. So did the box of aluminum foil (25 feet) at 40 cents, and Bernstein dressings at 40 cents. (Last month, the warehouse received a large donation of pates and pesto. Marked $1 each, they were passed up by customers in favor of the more familiar bargains in pork-and-beans. At the end of the day, all the shelves were bare except for the pate and pesto).
The Town Fair Bazaar is staffed by 200 volunteers, and all proceeds go to the City of Hope. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The warehouse is located at 317 S. Crocker St. Admission is 25 cents. Plenty of metered street parking is available. Information: (213) 626-0902.