Find big-time bargains at the company stores

As the economy wobbles, latching onto a good deal becomes more a matter of necessity than sport. More of us clip coupons, shop at Savers or ALDI and base our next getaway on price discounts as much as location.

Sometimes it is easy to make the hunt an adventure of surprises.

Crazy Franks Liquidators, in Readstown (Vernon County) and Mineral Point (Iowa County), for years has placed deep markdowns on its hodgepodge inventory, jalapenos to hammers. It is the same at the monstrous Bargain Bill’s, Rice Lake, which sells furniture and flooring to craft materials and toiletries; “if an item is not a good seller, we just mark it down until it is,” the store announces online.

Retailers of a similar ilk are scattered throughout Wisconsin, in towns as small as Gibbsville (Sheboygan County) and Hilbert (Calumet County). I’ve also shopped in an Amish farm shed near Cazenovia (Richland County) and wouldn’t be able to find it again by myself.

Grocery overstocks fill Gibbsville General Store: If you visit, also walk a block to the Gibbsville Cheese Factory outlet, where the monthly “mystery cheese” goes for a mere $2 per thick slab. Mystery cheese is the result of mixing the last vat of one cheese with the first vat of the next.

I know of people who have gone out of their way to say they like the prices and organic food selection at Hilbert’s Corner Cupboard; the shopkeepers say merchandise “changes all the time, but one thing is consistent: the prices you pay are always much, much lower than you would pay to any other grocery store.”

The theme is similar at Country Discount Grocery, west of Wautoma, which adds products from local Amish families (bakery, eggs) to the non-perishables.

In all of these places, inventory is changing and unpredictable, based on the assortment of dented containers, overstocks, closeouts and short-notice “sell by” dates on food delivered.

Where else can extraordinary price reductions be found? Caterer Polly Reott of Madison recently reminded me of the great deals at “company stores” – the retail outlets of product manufacturers.

Here are 10 examples. I’d love to hear about what else has worked for you.

Amity/Rolfs Factory Outlet Store, 810 E. Washington St., West Bend – Fine leather wallets, belts and handbags are at least 50 percent cheaper than retail prices; some items contain imperfections. This company was the world’s biggest billfold maker in the 1930s; much of the work moved overseas in 1996, but the outlet store remains. www.rolfs.net, 262-335-1212

Best Maid Cookie Co., 1147 Benson St., River Falls – The family business, open since 1943, literally is deep into the dough – cookie dough. The company’s best-known private-label product is the chocolate chip cookie dough baked on Midwest Airlines flights. For sale at the retail outlet are other types of dough and already-baked cookies. www.bestmaid.com, 715-426-2090

The Lang Factory Store, 3600 S. Moorland Rd., New Berlin – Prices are up to 80 percent off on closeouts and overstocks of candles, calendars, stationery and other paper products. The suburban Milwaukee store has a warehouse feel; merchandise sits in large cardboard boxes. www.lang.com, 262-786-9260

Jones Dairy Farm Retail Store, 601 Jones Ave., Fort Atkinson – The 1889 family business still operates its original farm and specializes in breakfast meats (ham, bacon and sausage) plus braunschweiger (liverwurst), scrapple (pork scraps – skins to livers to hearts – plus wheat flour and spices) and a gluten-free product line. The sausage recipe can be traced to the 1830s.
www.jonesdairyfarm.com, 920-563-2963

Organic Valley Retail Store, 507 W. Main St., LaFarge – The nation’s largest cooperative of farmers sells an ever-expanding line of organic dairy and other products. Items often are sold at a discount; expect an array of fresh veggies during the growing season. www.organicvalley.coop, 608-625-2602

Jelly Belly Center, 10100 Jelly Belly Lane, Pleasant Prairie – Not far from the Kenosha area’s factory outlet shopping mall, off of Interstate 94, sits an enormous warehouse of candy. Visitors can take a free tour and watch a video about how the treats are made. Best buy: Belly
Flops, bags of misshapen jelly beans. It also is possible to sample many of the 50 Jelly Belly flavors. www.jellybelly.com, 262-947-3800

Fox River Glove Factory Outlet, 111 W. Fond du Lac St., Ripon – Five rooms of merchandise include gloves, moccasins, boots, blaze orange and camouflage clothing, plus miscellaneous items from auctions and estate sales. 920-748-5845

Rippin’ Good Cookie Outlet Store, 420 Oshkosh St., Ripon – Cookies are sold by the retail package for as little as 99 cents, by the case (that’s 12 retail packages) or in bulk (recent deals included 16 pounds of chocolate- or caramel-striped cookies for under $10). Occasionally products are marked down because they are near “sell by” dates, but more are product overruns or returned orders. 920-748-0293

Swiss Colony and Seventh Avenue Outlet Store, 652 Eighth St., Monroe – Overstocks and discontinued merchandise actually come from the inventory of five catalogs (Midnight Velvet, Montgomery Ward and Country Door are the others). So expect an odd mix of petit fours, jewelry, outdoor grills, home furnishings. Clothing recently was 80 percent lower than retail; furniture was 70 percent off. www.swisscolony.com, www.seventhavenue.com, www.midnightvelvet.com, www.wards.com, www.countrydoor.com, 608-328-8572

Usinger’s Famous Sausage, 1030 N. Old World Third St., Milwaukee – The sausage maker takes pride in its heritage and longevity; notice the 1906 interior mural of elves at work. For sale are many types of meats made from Old World recipes. Check out the “seconds table” for discounts. www.usinger.com, 800-558-9998

For more about other businesses mentioned:

Crazy Franks Liquidators, Highway 61 South, Readstown, and Highway 151, north of Mineral Point: www.crazyfranks.com, 608-629-5186 and 608-987-3346.

Bargain Bill’s, near Highways 48 and 53, Rice Lake: www.bargainbillsinc.com, 715-234-3505.

The Corner Cupboard, 44 S. Eighth St., Hilbert: www.hilbertcornercupboard.com, Savers

Country Discount Grocery, W9483 Hwy. 21, Wautoma: www.countrydiscountgrocery.com, 920-787-5000.