Last Friday was the grand opening of the new Big Lots store at the Greendale Mall, though people visiting the mall earlier that week evidently found the store open for business in advance of the “grand opening”. Last Friday, if you were one of the early shoppers (like Kate Toomey), you would have found yourself the recipient of a $3.00 gift card, coffee/juice/doughnuts/muffins, a Big Lots baseball cap, travel mug & tape measure.
Worcesterites are largely unfamiliar with the Big Lots chain, though their stores are sprinkled around central Massachusetts. Nevertheless, the nearest Big Lots had been in Fitchburg and Dudley until last week, and although Worcesterites like a bargain, they’ll rarely travel far for one.
I’ve heard from several friends/relations who’ve visited the new store. Not knowing what to expect, some of them were disappointed that prices were slightly higher than comparable items at Ocean State Job Lot or Building 19. Comparing Big Lots to other discount stores isn’t quite like comparing apples & oranges, but more like comparing Granny Smith Apples to Fuji or Golden Delicious — each sort of bargain store should be evaluated/appreciated separately, as each has its strengths & weaknesses.
In general, Big Lots stores offer very nice merchandise that is considerably cheaper than retail prices in department stores like Walmart or Target. They’re sometimes cheaper than comparable goods at Ocean State Job Lot, and sometimes they’re more expensive — you have to know your prices to make an informed buying decision.
The new Big Lots store at Greendale Mall is quite spacious, taking over the square footage formerly occupied by Marshalls. My family and I have been to most of the Big Lots stores in central New England, and the closest in store size & merchandise selection to the Greendale Mall store is probably in Fitchburg (prices seem to be the same in every store).
The Fitchburg Big Lots is located in a small plaza on John Fitch Highway in a circa 1970 building that once housed a Stuart’s Department Store. It strives to be clean & cheery, and certainly looks nicer than Stuart’s did in the mid-1990s as it circled the drain, but the building still has a “worn out” feel to it. The bargains & selection, nevertheless, make up for the tired architecture. For more than a decade this store has been a frequent stop for my family when we’re in the area, and my husband has often made a special trip in the spring, as they offer 8-foot-tall trees for under $15, including species not usually found at nurseries in this area (Taxodium distichum, anyone?).
Until last week, the Fitchburg store was the one to beat. Dudley, Milford & Gardner are probably the next closest geographically, but just don’t quite compare. Worcester does.
The selection at the new Worcester store seems to be nearly identical to Fitchburg — we even found a few items in Worcester we hadn’t ever seen in any Big Lots before (though maybe they were new in the inventory chain-wide). As usual, the prices were uniform with their other stores.
Despite the comparable merchandise, the Greendale Mall store seems a bit nicer than the one in Fitchburg, with slightly wider aisles. The location of “departments” within each Big Lots store seems to be determined by each manager’s whim, as they’re usually not consistent — the Greendale Mall store was a new challenge in this regard. We found ourselves wandering the aisles last week to find things. Hopefully they’ll get some better overhead signs up soon.
I can cheerfully declare that the Greendale Mall Big Lots is a worthwhile stop for bargain hunters, but you’ll face at least one challenge. This being the first Big Lots I’ve seen in a mall instead of a plaza, it occurs to me that if you’re accustomed to buying larger items, you may find it a chore to get them to your car. The store is tucked away at the far right end of the second floor. Conceivably you could use the glass elevator to get things down to the level where people park, but I doubt that Big Lots will want their shopping carts travelling all the way out to the parking lot or garage. Check with your sales clerk and see if they have any “approved” ways to get stuff to your car.
And you’ll probably still have to drive to Fitchburg if you want that cheap Cercis canadensis.