BJ’s: Where Are the Bargains?

I will not make a joke about the store’s name.*

OK, so I’m a good shopper. Maybe bordering on great, if you ask my favorite ex-wife who used to call me “Mr. Shopping Man.” I know where the buys are and often purchase stuff because it’s a bargain, not because I need it. It is a distinct character failure of mine because I wind up with a lot of waste, negating the bargain nature of the buy. I mean, who else–other than a hoarder of some sort–has four lawn mowers, seven cameras, two internet security contracts, four computers?

So, imagine my chagrin when I joined BJ’s on faith (and a suggestion from a friend), only to find that this Sam’s Club/Costco knockoff isn’t what I expected: a bargain basement. BJ’s opened recently about a mile from my house in Northwest Roanoke (and less than a mile from Sam’s Club) and I resisted the temptation to immediately join because of its $110 annual membership fee. I don’t like the idea of paying a fee to go into a store and buy stuff. It just doesn’t fit my perception of shopping, in a fair sense.

The BJ’s deal–I was to understand–was this: buy a year’s membership for $35 and get a $20 gift certificate for anything in the store. The deal turned out to be this: buy a year’s membership for $55 and get a $19.99 gift certificate for Tide laundry detergent. At the end of the year, BJ’s would hit my credit card for the full price to renew. I went for it, anyway, thinking, “Hell’s bells, this place looks full of bargains.”

I didn’t have time to do a recon at the moment (I was headed for a hike), so I went back the next day to inspect the store. I walked the entirety of the the huge building with an oversized rolling basket and found nothing to buy. Not a damn thing. No bargains. There was nothing that I saw I couldn’t get elsewhere less expensively or of better quality. I bought the Tide, but discovered it cost a little more than $25 for 200 ounces, so I was out $5 instead of nothing. $25 for Tide is about triple what I normally pay for the same amount of detergent of nearly equal quality (Xtra is 250 ounces for about $9 at Big Lots, a mile and a half away).

Groceries looked pretty good, but the prices were often higher than Kroger, Walmart or Aldi’s (all within a mile of BJ’s, and Aldi’s just feet away), and rarely lower. For nearly everything else, there are also good alternatives within a mile’s drive, and, of course, there is the internet.

I’ve paid my money and I’ll accept the defeat, but I won’t go quietly.

(* No I won’t joke about it because I used to edit the respected Blue Ridge Business Journal, which we affectionately called ‘The BJ.’)


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