And you thought Walmart the day after Thanksgiving was crazy.
Yeah, that doesn’t even compare to the daily unveiling of merchandise at the Goodwill Outlet, 1830 E. Irvington Road.
One by one, long, shallow bins roll out, bed sheets tightly tucked into the corners, so no one can see what’s underneath. By the time all six blue bins are lined up and ready to go, a crowd has gathered, about 30 people — wedged so snugly they know exactly what kind of toothpaste each other uses. They ring the edges. Waiting.
A Goodwill Outlet employee yanks back the sheets and quickly steps aside.
Clothes fly (and maybe a few elbows), stuffed animals roll, metal clinks as it crashes together.
“It’s freaky,” says regular shopper Ramon Rivera, who watches from a distance. “Old ladies are hitting you, they push you.”
Rivera, a retired Air National Guardsman and avid hunter who visits the outlet once a week, laughs. “It’s Black Friday every day here.”
The outlet — “the shark tank,” as one regular calls it while waiting for the store to open — is a bargain-hunter’s paradise.
Some merchandise, like furniture and electronics, is individually marked, and it’s wicked cheap: $4.99 for a simple, black couch, $5.99 for a well-loved floral armchair. Most items, though, are sold by weight. Glassware goes for 29 cents a pound; clothing and other textiles, $1.29 a pound.
You have to sift through 96 tables that are restocked twice a day. Talk about Goodwill hunting.
Items get five weeks on the floor of Goodwill’s regular retail stores before ending up at the outlet. Some things in the bins — a golf bag with half the clubs missing, battered Christmas decorations, coffee cans full of leftover screws and nails — smack of spousal ultimatums (“Get that out of the house today — or else!”). Other stuff, quite frankly, looks like trash: an empty soda can, a nearly completed puzzle with missing end pieces, a baby nasal aspirator.
“There’s that saying ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,’ ” says store manager Todd Waltz. “It’s so true here.”
Recently, someone scored a paddle boat for $150. Waltz says one customer bought an outside lamp, took it apart to clean and found what he thought were washers. Turned out to be gold rings.
Rivera’s heard rumors that someone unearthed Louis Vuitton shoes in those blue bins. He himself has discovered Coleman stoves, a 1960 porcelain coffee pot, even a brand-new Carhartt jacket that would sell for more than $100.
“You can spend a lot of money here,” Rivera says. “It’s addicting.”
To keep merchandise fresh and shoppers engaged — many of whom arrive well before the store opens and spend the entire day rummaging — the outlet holds “reveals.” Merchandise is covered with bedsheets until the big unveiling, which happens at regular intervals throughout the whole day every day. The reveal rules are simple and straightforward: no carts, no kids, no peeking.
The regulars, and there are many of them, know the drill and keep newbies in line. Of course, every once in awhile, someone tries to buck the system.
One covered bin is all that’s on the 10,000-square-foot sales floor when a woman in a pink hoodie nonchalantly scoots over and starts circling it. She fishes a finger underneath the sheet.
“No peeking,” Waltz calls out.
Church groups headed on mission trips shop here. So does the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Agents pick up merchandise in bulk to use for training drug-sniffing dogs. Many regulars, like Anna, buy and resell at swap meets or online.
Anna, who declined to give her last name, shops Monday through Friday, spending about $600 a week. She buys mostly clothes and resells them in Mexico, where she says she doubles her investment.
That entrepreneurial spirit sits just fine with Waltz.
“I think it’s great — another way for us to help the community,” he says.
While that old, 1990 ballad “More than Words” plays over the speaker, people sift through the items they’ve pulled. What they’re keeping gets piled up in oversized shopping baskets and covered with a bedsheet, lest another shopper try to poach something.
Rejects go back into the bins to catch someone else’s eye. A big stuffed pony, perfectly sized for a toddler, bounces around a few shopping carts before ending up back in a blue bin.
Whatever doesn’t sell here, ends up destined for salvage or gets shipped to Goodwill’s Nogales, Arizona, outlet.
The extra effort to unload merchandise pays off — Goodwill of Southern Arizona kept 24 million pounds out of local landfills last year, says marketing specialist Matthew Flores.
Contact Kristen Cook at email@example.com or 573-4194. On Twitter: @kcookski