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The advantages of buying things out of season

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SOUTH COUNTY — I made up my mind that tax holiday or not, I wasn’t going to fight the crowds for back-to-school shopping this year.


Penny Fletcher Photos
Kate Hamilton at the South Shore Gallery shows off some of the artwork by local artists that she sells on consignment as well as pieces she buys for the gallery from well-known artists across the country. Because new items are usually put into stock in the fall, Kate says the time to buy holiday gifts is during the summer sales.
Of course, my 12-year-old granddaughter didn’t agree. But I just don’t think everything from shirts and pants to shoes and socks need to be fresh out of the box the first day you meet your new classmates and teachers. One good splat of breakfast juice in the cafeteria and half of them won’t make it to their first class without stains anyway.   

Besides, aren’t things always much cheaper the day after an event?

One of the best buys I ever got was the Christmas tree I purchased Dec. 26 last year.

I’m definitely not what you’d call “a shopper.” You wouldn’t ever catch me in a store the weekend after Thanksgiving, especially on Black Friday, or in a mall just before the winter holidays. I buy things when I need them, although in some cases, I’m forced into it sooner than I’d like because an appliance wears out, or clothes don’t fit anymore, or some other occasion that would constitute what I call a shopping emergency. Walking through stores and malls just isn’t my kind of entertainment.

Some people I know would window shop every day and buy everything in sight even if they never expect to need it or give it away. They have what I call the “shopping gene”  and they have every right to walk through every store in the country if that’s how they want to spend their day. I suppose if everyone was the same, the world would be a pretty boring place.

But being the “non-shopper” that I am, finding me in a large chain store on Dec. 26 2009 was a rare occurrence indeed. It had something to do with an exchange my  granddaughter wanted right away.

Well, I learned something that day I’ll never forget about being in the right place at the right time. Store employees were taking down holiday decorations and they couldn’t find a box for the beautiful lighted 10-foot display tree in the Garden Center. I was checking out in the Garden Center because the lines in the front of the store were so long they wound through the aisles all the way to the pharmacy when I heard two employees arguing about what they were going to do with the display tree.

My artificial tree was 12 years old and for several years I had been considering replacing it. But then- as I said before — I don’t like to shop.

Frances Hereford, owner of Southern Grace Inc., in Ruskin, keeps holiday items in stock year round.

So here I was, standing in the Garden Center, listening to the argument about how to take down and store this gorgeous lighted tree, especially since the box had apparently been lost.

I got out of the short line and went over to them. “What will you take for that tree?” I asked.

“We can’t sell this, it’s a display tree,” one of them said.

“I know it’s a display tree. I just asked what you’ll take for it?” I persisted, noticing that the lights were all still attached, as was a solid three-legged stand. The price tag on the tree said $169.

“Forty dollars,” one of them said.

“Can you fold the branches down and put it in a box?” I asked.

“Twenty-five,” said the second employee, who now looked extremely happy to have the tree dilemma solved and be able to go on to something else.

“Sold,” I said, reaching out my hand to take the tree by the trunk.

“You mean you’re going to take it like this?” one of them asked.

“Of course, just come to the check-out counter with me and make sure the cashier knows the correct price.”

No one was more amazed than I when I stuffed that tree, fully put together, into the back seat of my Saturn Ion; except maybe my granddaughter, who was absolutely thrilled when I pulled up at the house.

This happenstance got me thinking. I remembered how my aunt, who had nine children, had talked about buying her Christmas and birthday presents off and on during the year. Someone else recently told me they always bought their kid’s back-to-school clothes during the winter break from school after the weather had turned cooler.

I remembered too that instead of rushing around at the last minute, my aunt actually had time to relax and enjoy the last few days before Christmas, and she always had time to bake a birthday cake.

Maybe there was a lesson here someplace that I, and readers, could use.

Ceramic flowers with crushed glass centers created by J. Wesley Allen of Tampa stand in front of Ruskin artist Bruce Marsh’s painted bamboo screen at the South Shore Gallery in Apollo Beach.

So I began to research “buying out of season.”

Naturally this does not go for produce or any kind of perishable goods but only for things you expect to need every year like Halloween decorations; flags and banners for patriotic holidays; that kind of thing.

The first person I called was Melanie Morrison, executive director of the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce. I wanted some direction about what small business people I might interview that could tell me how many of their sales were for items that were out of season. I knew how the large chains dealt with seasonal material, with their biggest holidays promoted many weeks in advance. The past few years I’ve even seen Halloween items being unboxed at the same time as Christmas trees and holiday lights. You can’t even replace a bulb on a strand of white lights from a large chain unless its time for Christmas decorations. I know- I’ve tried.

When I left the chamber I visited Kate Hamilton at the South Shore Gallery at 447 Apollo Beach Blvd. I found only a few seasonal items there, but learned that many shoppers come in during the slowest seasons, like mid-summer, to take advantage of sales, and then use their purchases as gifts later in the year. Because new items are stocked before the snowbirds (and winter holidays) arrive, the gallery has regular sales of 30-percent or more on items that have been there awhile at this time of year.

“The artist’s consignment items aren’t affected, just the things we own outright,” Kate said.

Frances Hereford agreed. The owner of Southern Grace Inc., at 301 U.S. 41 S. in Ruskin for six years, Frances keeps holiday items in stock year round.

In fact, I walked into a “Christmas in August” sale without even realizing it, but I also found many fall items, Halloween decorations, St. Patrick’s day decorations, and a whole collection of Mark Roberts Collectible Fairies, one for every holiday of the year. The Roberts collection had Uncle Sams and Leprechauns and fairies with Easter-bunny ears. There were also lots of Easter and other spring decorations throughout the store that easily made me forget the 90-degree August heat outside.

Now that I knew I wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea of shopping out of season, I went online and Googled “Tampa Bay personal shopping” to see if people who shopped for a living bought much out-of-season stock. But the closest personal shopper I could find had a St. Petersburg address. That told me someone around here could probably make money doing this for people with jobs at companies that have been downsized. I mean, who has time to shop after performing duties once relegated to three of four people? This sounded like an entrepreneurial bonanza to me.

Southern Grace Inc., in Ruskin has Mark Roberts Collectible Fairies for every holiday of the year as well as many out-of-season items year round.

I did manage to get hold of Anita Fabrizio, president of Tampa Personal Concierge, who covers the entire Tampa Bay area with her business. She promised to get back to me by telephone in the next day or so but nearly a week later, she still hadn’t had time so I figure the concierge business (which includes shopping for clients) must be pretty good.

Meanwhile, once the kids are back in school, I’ll think about doing some back-to-school shopping. By then the prices should have gone way down.

Still, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to beat the bargain I got on that Christmas tree. 

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