What happened to deals?

Why discounts and liquidation sales aren't what they used to be

A flying sale tag.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

A couple of weeks ago, my local Giant supermarket began a major remodel, which required liquidating large amounts of excess or to-be-discontinued inventory. Among my scores were steaks for under $5 per pound, an 80-pack of dishwasher pods for less than $3, and one (possibly two) cases of wine. We're not talking "Save $2 with your Club Card"; we're talking $40 Napa cabernets for $10 and $15 French rosés for $6. Oh, and beer: cobbled-together six-packs, some containing premium craft brews, packaged in giant Ziploc bags and marked $5 with a Sharpie.

Filling my cart gave me a kid-in-a-candy-shop feeling, but I realized I was also feeling a kind of nostalgia. These closeout bargains activated dim childhood memories of when, it seemed, brick-and-mortar deals like this were everywhere. I remembered video games: sealed Nintendo games for $1 when The Wiz went bust in 2003; a stack of $5 Pokemon Blues for the Gameboy in a rural Vermont general store in the late '90s; a cardboard barrel of discount Sega Genesis games still hanging out in a corner of Toys ‘R' Us some time in the early 2000s. I also remembered when Laneco, a Walmart-style Northeast regional discount retailer, offered a "fill a cart for $5" promo on their last day of operation, back in 2001. Ten or so years before that, my father picked up two Philips Digital Compact Cassette decks, a fascinating failure then being liquidated by the now-defunct J&R Music World in New York City.

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Addison Del Mastro

Addison Del Mastro writes on urbanism and cultural history. Find him on Substack (The Deleted Scenes) and Twitter (@ad_mastro).