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In a weak economy, the Friday Store specializes in surplus groceries

The bad economy has been very good to the Friday Store, a business devoted to selling surplus groceries at discount prices. "We are in the unique position that the worse the economy gets, the better our business gets," says Martin Palumbo. "It's been a win-win situation all the way around. The better our business gets, that means we can buy more. And the more we can buy, the cheaper we can get it, and the cheaper we can get it, the cheaper we can sell it to people."

Sidebar: See the five best bargains at the Friday Store.

Martin and his wife, Jo, spend Monday through Thursday buying surplus and expired goods from grocery wholesalers. They then sell their finds at extreme discounts — wholesale or below, Martin says, which means about 50 to 75 percent less than normal grocery-store prices — at the Friday Store, located in a windowless warehouse at 5636 Newland Way in Arvada, and open Friday and Saturday only.

The business was founded in the early '70s by two women who had eleven children between them. One of the women was buying cheese by the truckload from Kraft, until a Kraft representative told her that she could save a lot of money by buying slightly damaged cheese, or cheese past its expiration date. The Friday Store grew out of that discovery. The Palumbos were regular shoppers there, and when they found out the owners wanted to retire, they bought the business in 1998.

It's grown considerably since they took over, doubling in size. "When we first bought the store, it was pretty rough," Martin says. "They were selling things off of pallets; there were no shelves. It was more of a warehouse situation, and we made it a little more consumer-friendly with the shelves and cleaned the place up."

Now cans of soup and bottles of juice sit across the aisle from organic herbs; gourmet raspberry honey-mustard pretzel dip can be found near the kitty litter. "The inventory is different all the time," explains Jo. "We have no way to know what we will have until we actually buy it. Some of what we got this week is from an overturned truck. So you just never know why or when we'll have something." That explains the store's "Get It While We Got It" motto.

The Friday Store also has two stocked freezers. One day last month it was offering frozen snow crab legs for $4 a pound. Day-old bread typically sells for $1.50 a loaf when it would sell for almost $4 at the grocery store; gourmet cheeses that might cost up to $20 a pound are routinely sold for around $4 a pound.

The Palumbos often wind up with high-end items such as gourmet sauces and marinades because the more expensive goods don't sell at other stores before their expiration date. At the Friday Store, they can be sold for much less — and customers don't seem too concerned with the pull date on the package. "Once in a great while, somebody will ask me about the expiration dates," Martin says, "and I explain to them that the expiration dates on packages are for insurance purposes. It doesn't mean that if it went out a week ago that now it's no good."

The store now stocks non-food items, too. A glass case displays jewelry, some knives and other odds and ends that Martin finds at auctions and estate sales. The couple will also sponsor local artists and photographers and sell their work.

But groceries remain the focus, and a surprising array of people browse the Friday Store's shelves. "One day out in front of my store we had an old, beat-up Chevy pickup truck, and on either side of it was parked a shiny new Jaguar," recalls Martin. "So we have people from all across the spectrum come in here."

People have learned about the Friday Store almost entirely through word of mouth, and they appreciate the wallet-friendly prices. "The most important thing in today's economy is not how much money you earn, it's how much money you can save that's going to make the difference," says Martin. "There are people who have been coming here for years and years, and over the course of the years, the money that they saved, they were able to put toward their mortgage or their children's education. We've made a lot of people happy. More than one person always stops at the door, turns around and says, 'Thanks for being here.'"

 
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