Predictable Stores, Unpredictable Finds

Most chain stores are pretty predictable. Home Depot: home repair stuff. Target: everything from toilet paper to furniture. DSW: shoes, shoes and more shoes. But don't you love it when you go into a predictable store and find something totally unpredictable? Say you go into Target to buy toilet paper and walk out with the coolest dress ever. Some people call this impulse shopping. I call it a good shopping day, especially if it's a good deal.

That happened to me recently when I went to World Market, the furniture and home goods store that has a similar feel to Pier 1 Imports. I went in search of a coffee table and walked out with a bag of groceries, including a bottle of wine. Despite not finding a coffee table, the bag of unusual food was a pleasant surprise.

The chain store has several rows of shelf food, including spices, sauces, pasta, cookies and crackers. While World Market has its own label of food, it also gets a lot of its stuff from American and foreign companies.

Let's start with the wines. The store has a decent selection, including several under $10. (I'm a cheap drinker. What can I say?) They had Pinot Evil, a pinot noir and pinot grigio for $5.99. I've never tried it but it had some decent online reviews. They sell Cavit pinot grigio, merlot and pinot noir for $7.99 and Vina Borgia, a red wine, for $5.99.

Walking through the food aisles I spotted a large selection of beautiful spices in nice big glass bottles for $2.99, boxes of gourmet cookies in flavors like carrot cake, cranberry chocolate pecan and toffee cashew for $3.69, a pound of wild Alaskan smoked salmon in a box that's meant as an appetizer with crackers or rolls for $14.99, and a bag of Italian bite-size wafer cookies in vanilla, chocolate and lemon for $3.49. You'll also find a German-made "fitness bread" for $2.99 that's pretty good toasted, with a little jelly on top.

I had the same experience at Marshalls the other day. The department store chain touts its clothing and shoes, so I went in search of some school clothes for my preschooler. But that large section of home accessories that's usually a jumbled mess in the back of the store called to me. If you really search through the shelves you'll find some interesting treasures. Like a decorative plate handmade in Portugal for $7.99, a collection of small table sculptures inspired by Leonardo DaVinci's Vitruvian Man for $14.99, a wooden hand-carved giraffe made in Zimbabwe for $5 and a large wood-framed mirror that was made in Italy for $59.99.

So what unpredictable things have you found at predictable stores? What's good at World Market and Marshalls? Share your wisdom by posting a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  August 14, 2008; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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I don't have time to sort through the junk. I go to stores where I know I will find what I need and the ones that are a jumbled mess can stay that way for somebody else. My time is valuable too.

Posted by: dancermommd | August 14, 2008 6:59 AM

What's more amazing than learning there is someone out there that just discovered that World Market has some good stuff is that the same someone is a "shopping columnist" that is actually paid to write an article about it. Welcome to the year 2000. Glad you made it after discovering Marshall's can have a good find on occasion which has been pretty common knowledge for even longer.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 14, 2008 9:16 AM

Love your articles, Born to Shop! During my lunch hour,I sometimes go to TJ Maxx and just look around - it's amazing what you can find when you don't have a particular item in mind. I've found lovely, soft pillowcases, a beautiful glass vase or two, dinnerware and more.

Posted by: WI | August 14, 2008 9:32 AM

I like those TJX-owned properties for many reasons. One of which is the fact that I can buy J.T. Jardine's salsas and quesos for half of what you would pay on their website.

Posted by: steve | August 14, 2008 11:02 AM

I agree and also love the TJX properties. I find that when I'm looking for something in particular, I can't always find it there, but if I'm just browsing, I find all kinds of goodies! Tania: Try Ikea for your coffee table.

Posted by: roya | August 15, 2008 11:12 AM

World Market is the BEST place to find dog toys at a reasonable price; i.e. cheap but good quality. One of my dogs loves toys so when I can get to a World Market I stock up.

Posted by: Meg | August 21, 2008 11:59 AM

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