“DIRT CHEAP,” said the sign in a thick and funky typeface. The sign sat on what looked the shell of an old Wal-Mart. DIRT CHEAP? Never heard of it, but for a discount store aficionado, its allure was too strong. My day trip to Meridian, MS would have to wait. I exited I-20.
Outside the store sat rejected Target and Walgreen’s shopping carts filled with chipped ceramic bear figurines, DVDs in cardboard cases, hair scrunchies and discontinued souvenirs from coastal towns. They could all be yours. Ten of them, in fact. For a dollar.
Venturing inside I found an amalgamation of almost dead electrical equipment, discontinued food items, piles of orphaned socks and other sad consumer items that just needed a little TLC.
I swiftly realized that Dirt Cheap is the king of southern insurance salvage discount goodness. It’s become one of my favorite stores.
Established 48 years ago in McGee, Mississippi, the chain now has 34 stores scattered across Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. It is the leading purchaser of salvaged goods in the United States. The website says their buyers, “keep their finger on the pulse, ready to respond within hours to the needs of the insurance industry anywhere in the country,” like EMTs for the detritus of the consumer cycle.
A few months ago a Dirt Cheap opened where I live in Starkville, Mississippi. It fills many of my personal consumer likes: sales (up to 80% off), objects in multiples (piles and piles of yellow and green frog yard ornaments are a feast for my eyes) and funny named off-brands (such as AWESOME
kitchen cleaner). I love working hard to get a good deal. I tried twenty strands of lights at the scary electrical testing station until I found one strand that worked–but it was only fifty cents! Score.
The aisles are disheveled and some totally closed off by yellow CAUTION tape to keep customers out while the workers clean and restock. Don’t even think of ducking under the tape. The employees scold you. Just wait for your next trip here to get the broken Thomas O’Brian Vintage table (75% off). There is no way in hell that you are crossing the tape line to get it now.
Shopping is anonymous. No one greets you when you enter. Customers (a mix of senior citizens, minorities, middle class housewives and men who like to fix broken gadgets) barely talk to each other. Cashiers hardly acknowledge you when you are checking out. It is just you and the search for the ultimate deal.
A sampling of some of my Dirt Cheap purchases:
A green Stanley Thermos without a cap: $7.00
Contacted Stanley and they sent a replacement cap. Use it everyday.
Healing Garden Lavender Cellulite Aerosol Cream: $4.00
Never would have EVER bought this stuff at full price. Ever. Never. Ever. At 70% off it didn’t seem like such a risk. Or so stupid.
Skirt with an all-over Yorkie Dog pattern: $3.00
Thought I could pull this off in a “look at me/I am so funny/aren’t I ironic” way. It didn’t work. Later donated to the Salvation Army.
A Pile of Face Moisturizers/Toners/Cleansers: $1.00 – $3.00
One of the best times to visit a Dirt Cheap is whenever a Walgreen’s or an Eckerd’s goes out of business and the leftover inventory winds up on the Dirt Cheap shelves at a deep discount. These products’ only crime is homelessness. I have given more than my fair share a new place to live. My skin and my wallet thank me for it.
Four-Foot Red Tinsel Christmas Tree from Target: $8.00
Another great thing about Dirt Cheap is that I can get my Target fix. The closest Target store to me is an hour-and-a-half away. I mourn Target’s loss, but Dirt Cheap helps me cope. This particular tree had a scuffed up box and a missing branch. Who cares? Not me.
Isaac Mizrahi Target Orange Metal Shelves: $4.00 each
These shelves look like small drawers and missed the hardware for wall mounting. They sit on my desk and hold office supplies.
Lillian Vernon Monogrammed Pencils: $2.00 for a pack of 20
My name is not Julius. I don’t even know any Juliuses but I own twenty pencils that should belong to someone with that moniker.
The inventory at Dirt Cheap is ever changing with new shipments come in every week. You can sign for a newsletter giving updates on new merchandise and special sales. http://www.hudsonsdirtcheap.com
Dirt Cheap isn’t a store you go to with a list. It’s a place to wander, search and dig–to quest. So far I have only made tiny, impulse purchases, though I’m keeping my eyes open. I hope to spot an eight-person tent with a broken, fixable zipper… Or even an electric scooter missing a rear view mirror…
Kate Bingaman is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Mississippi State University. Her site, ObsessiveConsumption, keeps tracks of her latest projects, including her drawings of her receipts and credit card statements.