For me, the TJ Maxx food epiphany occurred when I was living in southwest Virginia. I like to cook, but found that it was hard to get reasonably-priced, high quality olive oil, chocolate, and balsamic vinegar. While my local gourmet grocery store stocked these items, I wasn't really inclined to pay $20 for a quart of extra virgin olive oil or $40 for a bottle of balsamic. On the other hand, my local grocery store carried Pompeiian and Goya olive oil, but wasn't really very much use if I was looking for something with a little more flavor.
My wife's was a huge fan of TJ Maxx, and would often drag me there to wander aimlessly while she perused the winter coats, purses or shoes. Admittedly, I enjoyed looking at the horrifying framed prints and scary mass-produced sculptures, but these delights quickly paled when I found the food section. There, on a top rack, the store had a nice selection of cheap, first-rate oils from Greece, Turkey, and Italy. Some of these were priced in the $11 range, but most were around $7. Meanwhile, a few steps away, there were gourmet mustards, balsamic vinegars, exotic chocolates, and a veritable cornucopia of reasonably-priced goodies. While some of these were from companies that I had never heard of, several were the same brands as my local gourmet grocery stocked; the only thing that was different was the price.
Until I left southwest Virginia, a year and a half ago, I visited TJ Maxx at least once a month, in search of cheap necessities and the occasional fun, experimental treat. I currently live in an urban neighborhood and, with only a short walk, I can find an almost endless array of culinary delicacies, often at very low prices. However, I still make the occasional pilgrimage to AJ Wright or another discount retailer. The only difference is that I now buy the exotic foods that I used to take for granted when I was in southwest Virginia. Barbecue rub, here I come!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. On his last discount store visit, he picked up a mid-1980's film, a winter coat, and a bottle of organic grilling sauce.