Thanksgiving at Big Lots

It was about 6:04 a.m. on a cold Thanksgiving morning.  It was dark with a hint of dawn. This was 2003, maybe 2004.

I was half awake.

I got out of my car and started walking slowly towards the front entry doors to Big Lots, keys in hand to open it.  I was wearing my Big Lots jacket.

A lady got out of her car and started yelling at me.

“You are late.  Your supposed to be open at 6 a.m. today.  I have been here a half hour waiting for you.  I want my blah-blah,” she yelled.

For the life of me I cannot remember what the special that she wanted actually was.  I only remember that it was actually Black Friday morning’s special.  Big Lots opened at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving and 6 a.m. on Black Friday.  We had Doorbusters for both days.  She wanted Friday’s Doorbuster.

Those of you who know me can remember that I am not a morning person.  I wasn’t a morning person then and I’m still not a morning person now.  I was only four minutes late for work.  For me I was doing good.

I tried to explain to her that that was actually tomorrow’s special, that we opened at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving and that her item would not be available until Friday at 6 a.m.  She did not believe me.  She yelled more.

A rational person would have called the police.  I asked if she would wait a minute.  I went into the store and grabbed an ad paper and a clock.  The Big Lots clocks were free to the first 100 customers through the door Thanksgiving morning.

A came back outside and explained again to the customer that that particular sale started tomorrow and that we didn’t open until 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving.  I had the ad paper in my hand and I showed all of this to her.  I handed her the ad paper and a clock.

“You are definitely the first person here on Thanksgiving morning.  Here is your clock.” I told her.

I don’t know if it’s just because people like free stuff, but we chatted a bit and by the time she left she was laughing.

And that was what Thanksgiving at Big Lots was like…

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, especially those who slave away in retail…

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Free Seed Starting Trays

snuffyI will make a confession here: free is my favorite price.

My farming dream includes my abundant garden where I grow organic heirloom vegetables.  I would grow all these vegetables from seed, seed that I have collected myself.  Of course right now this is just a dream, as I have failed and failed and failed with my garden.  I hope and pray that this year will be the year I will figure it all out.

One big key piece of the dream is to cultivate vegetable starter plants from seed.  There are basically three costly inputs to starting your own vegetable starter plants: seed, soil and seed starting trays.  (Of course there is water and sunshine, too, but I am referring to monetary input costs.)  Believe it or not, the most expensive “ingredient” is the seed starting tray.  Those seed starting trays will cost $1.00 or $2.00 each.

I am now going to share with you thee secret method to getting free seed starting trays…

1.  Go to the garden center section of a big box store, maybe Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal-mart, etc.  Make sure it’s at the peak of the season.

2. Do the work for the garden center employees.  Consolidate trays of flower and vegetable starter plants.  You want to look for “holes” in the display trays and condense the trays to fill up some and empty others. Be mindful and respectful of the job that the employees have to do: make sure you only combine trays of the same type and price point and variety.  You are doing them a favor.  They are doing you a favor.

3. Ask permission of an employee to take the trays home.

stickynote2It’s that simple, really.

Here are a few other things to be aware of:
I have never received a “no”. Ever.
Some holder trays are better for seed starting than others.  It really just depends on the style used and there are probably hundreds of variables.
The big box stores throw these trays out anyway.  The trays do not have an inventory.  The grower purchases these trays by the truckload, so their cost for the trays is nominal.  They do not reuse these.
The “experts” will tell you to disinfect the trays with a solution of 10% bleach to kill any diseases present.
There’s probably a chemical residue on the trays because I can guarantee you that that grower bathed these starter plants in an assortment of chemical ick.
Isn’t it better to repurpose these trays rather than have them end up in a landfill?

You may also be wondering how I came up with my “system” for obtaining free seed starting trays… Once upon a time in Jersey a very long time ago, I used to manage garden centers.  I was Assistant Manager (and even Acting Store Manager briefly) of the now defunct Frank’s Nursery and Crafts.  I also ran the Garden Shop and Patio departments of a K-mart for an entire season.   I observed these trays being thrown out.  I threw them out myself as I consolidated the trays or delegated consolidating.  I managed the whole process of selling thousands of dollars worth of starter plants daily, ordering directly from the grower.  (Perhaps I should add that running garden centers was really the precursor to me becoming a farmer.  Perhaps that is a story I’ll share with you in the future.)

And of course, just because my kids are cute, I’m going to illustrate this….

Step One… Arrive at a Big Box Garden Center.

These "holes" are  what you want to look for...

Step two… These “holes” are what you want to look for… start consolidating here…

Again... look for "holes" in the display trays and then work on consolidating them.

Again… look for “holes” in the display trays and then work on consolidating them.

This is not a bad amount for April.  The garden center business peaks in May.

This is not a bad amount for April. The garden center business peaks in May.                       Step three…. Make sure you ask permission from store personnel before you take them home.


These are seed starting trays from two years ago.  My seeds never grew, but it wasn't because of the trays.

These are seed starting trays from two years ago. My seeds never grew, but it wasn’t because of the trays.

(Linked to The Barn Hop.)

Posted in Being a Good Environmental Stewards, Feeling Nostalgic, Laura's Cheapskate Secrets, The Garden and tagged , , by with no comments yet.

Remembering the Pallet Man

I have been working a lot this week on making goat corrals in the chicken house.  I am using pallets to make them.  Using pallets as a building material has made me remember the Pallet Man, known here in this blog post as ThePalletMan.

I knew ThePalletMan for the four years that I lived in South Jersey and worked as an assistant manager at that retailer that starts with B.  South Jersey seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only about nine years, five kids, two states and too-many-pounds-than-I-care-to-admit ago.

Since a sizable portion of the stock came palletized, the store generated a lot of extra pallets.  The warehouse was lukewarm about receiving the pallets back. It was better for us to dispose of the pallets ourselves, dispose of them at store level.

And that’s where ThePalletMan comes in.  ThePalletMan and I had an agreement.  I would leave the unwanted extra pallets outside behind the store.  He would take them away for me. ThePalletMan would never announce that he was coming, but my pallets were gone and gone quickly. He would keep the area behind the store tidy for me.

I had run into him a few times over the years working there.  I honestly don’t remember his name, and I don’t think I’d even be able to identify him by sight.  He didn’t have teeth, but he had pallets.  “I take care of your pallets for you,” ThePalletMan said.  “I live right here in [this town].  I come with my pickup and take away your pallets.  I clean it up for you.”  ThePalletMan went on further to explain.  “If the pallets are broken, I put them together to make new complete ones. I use the leftover wood to heat my house.”

ThePalletMan was the ultimate recycler and entrepreneur.  Although he never admitted it to me, I know he sold his pallets back to a pallet wholesaler.  Pallets can generate anywhere from $2.00 – $5.00 per piece.  He fixed the broken ones so that they were useable and sellable, generating even more of a profit for himself.  And then he used the leftovers to heat his home.  And that’s not to mention that he regularly cleaned up the dock area behind the store for me.

Pallets are already in their nature the ultimate wise use of resources.  They are made of the less desirable types of wood, wood that might be a waste product anyway.  They are used again and again until they fall apart. Pallets are a good system.

I have frequently read online about how to use pallets to make things.  I’ve read how it’s good to use these pallets, which would otherwise be a waste product. Um, no.  Apparently the people who have written such things have never met ThePalletMan. ThePalletMan would take what was left for trash and send it back into America’s great warehousing system.  These pallets would go to warehouses unknown and be used again and again and again.  But the link from that store’s dock to the warehouses unknown was ThePalletMan.

I have a feeling that there is a Pallet Man in just about every community.

So when I make my goat corrals from pallets, I know that I am not really recycling.  I am taking pallets out of the whole “system”.  Sure I’m using already used pallets.  Sure the pallets were free.  But I am taking the pallets out of warehouses and trucks, where they would be used until they just wore out.  I am not using the already worn out ones, since the worn out ones would be unusable for me, too.  I am actually doing a disservice.

Remember that the next time you see some great blog post about building a chicken house or deck or bed or widget from pallets.  You are not doing anything great but finding cheap building material.  It is ThePalletMan who is the true recycling hero here.  You should remember ThePalletMan and honor him.

ThePalletMan is a much better steward of resources than I am.

ThePalletMan is a much better steward of resources than I am.


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