CWW: The Barn

This is usually a Worcester-centric blog, but since some of my readers live outside the immediate area, and since some of us actually venture further afield than the Worcester suburbs, the following may be of interest.

About an hour or so northwest of Worcester lies the town of Greenfield.  It’s a cute town & has loads of attractions that may entice you to stop & visit (I enjoy a trip to Federal Street Books when I’m in the area), but I’d like to focus on one destination in particular — The Barn, a discount grocer located at 95 River Street near routes I-91 and 2A.

Many of us have an interest in keeping our food budget in check — perhaps even more so in these difficult economic times.  Worcester used to have a store that sold grocery items that were either approaching their sell-by date, or inventory for which the distributor may have been unable to find buyers.  That store was Duffy’s, which in its last years was located in Cherry Valley, and which was closed in 2008 when its parent company, Millbrook Distributors, was acquired by United Natural Foods.

The Barn is what Duffy’s wanted to be when it grew up — had Duffy’s not been killed off prematurely by its evil new parent.  The Barn is about three times the size of Duffy’s; it not only features the same sorts of canned & dry goods Duffy’s had, it also has refrigerated & frozen foods, as well as produce.  Some of the inventory comes directly from the manufacturers who may have produced more than supermarkets were willing to buy; some items for sale are discontinued products or products whose labels/packages have been “updated”, so you’re merely buying yesterday’s design gimmicks; and other products may be approaching their sell-by date, which is usually not an indicator that they’re suddenly going to go bad (but one should use good judgment about how soon you’re likely to use/eat it).  The Barn’s website describes the approaching sell-by products this way:

“How can we charge less than supermarkets?

We buy from the same grocery wholesalers that supply your favorite supermarkets — we just wait until the product has limited time left before the package expiration date.  We need to sell it FAST, so we price it LOW — really low!”

A few days ago I posted some photos of some fun signs that are mounted all around the exterior of The Barn.  This sort of kooky signage may remind Worcester-area folks of Building 19, though I think The Barn’s signage crew might be a bit funnier.  There’s no Barn equivalent of Jerry Ellis all over the place . . . probably a good thing.  The Barn gets you in a lighthearted mood before you even enter the store.

The Barn doesn’t really look like a barn, as you can see in the above photo.  Not being from the Greenfield area, I don’t know what this building used to be, but I’d hazard a guess that it may have been a feed warehouse and/or farm supply store.

There’s a ramp when you enter which features a few of their specials:

At the top of the ramp you can grab a cart (if you hadn’t already gotten one outside), and then check out the produce.

The produce prices are good, but here in Worcester you can get the same fruit & vegetables for comparable prices at Price Rite, and with greater selection.  Since Greenfield doesn’t have a Price Rite, I imagine folks nearby are glad to get their produce at these prices.

There is a decent selection of cereals & chips at discount prices:

You can’t go wrong with the prices on the huge assortment of condiments — even after the sell-by date, these will keep a long time for you:

If you’re a snacker, the cookie & cracker selection will blow your mind:

They have a nice selection of ethnic food, conveniently categorized:

My family came away with many boxes of rice pilaf for fifty cents each — much cheaper than the Worcester-area stores!

There are lots of bargain items to choose from in the frozen foods aisle:

(On the day we visited, the Lean Cuisine frozen entrees were 2 for a dollar!)

We came away with several items from the aisle that features cleaning supplies, toiletries and other non-edibles:

The price & selection of spices was very nice; reminiscent of Worcester’s now-defunct Duffy’s:

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll find many food options:

I have a family member who has difficulty with gluten — if you do as well, you’ll be pleased to hear that The Barn has set aside an area especially for gluten-free foods:

There’s an aisle for tea & coffee:

With/without caffeine, herbal, etc.  The prices here are pretty good; you can occasionally do better at Building 19 if you know your prices and visit often enough to catch the deals when they show up.  But it looks like you can count on some decent prices regularly in this aisle at The Barn.

There are, of course, other bottled/canned beverages at The Barn:

(frozen baked goods, too)

If you like to bake things from scratch, you’ll find many of your ingredients at the barn at excellent prices:

Not pictured is a small selection of baked breads, rolls, etc. they had for sale — these were neither fresh enough nor cheap enough to warrant our attention on that particular day, though I imagine they get this stuff in batches and you might have better luck on another day.

At the rear of the store you can see how they’re able to quickly get stuff up onto the shelves for quick sale,  They have these sorting bins that indicate what aisle the products need to go to, and they have several busy employees zipping around & stocking (you may notice a few of them in the above photos.)

Checkout is easy & quick.  There are several registers, though on the weekday when these photos were taken, only one was open.  The Barn accepts all of the major credit cards, debit cards and EBT, and also bags your groceries.  You may recall that Worcester area Price Rite does not bag your groceries (and will charge you extra if you want to buy a bag), and that Aldi doesn’t accept credit cards.  So by comparison, The Barn makes your shopping visit that much easier.

The Barn is definitely worth your time if you’re passing through the Greenfield area.  We noticed vehicles in the parking lot with plates from Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut as well as Massachusetts, so evidently the word has gotten out about the deals to be had at The Barn (we first heard of The Barn via iBrattleboro).  If you plan to buy frozen/refrigerated goods, save your trip to The Barn for when you’re on your way back to central Massachusetts so that you can get your purchases into the refrigerator or freezer in a timely fashion.

I only wish The Barn had an outlet closer by!  My family would be there at least once a week if they were.  Since Worcester & its environs have several vacant grocery store buildings languishing tenantless, the landlords really ought to court the folks at The Barn and see if they’ll come & set up shop here.  As home of the “Spag’s Mentality”, there is certainly a huge prospective customer base eagerly waiting for such a discount store.  It could be a win-win-win . . . more shoppers for The Barn, a paying tenant for a vacant building, and great prices for central Mass. shoppers.

Residency Requirements in Springfield

Since the residency requirement issue periodically pops up in Worcester, I thought folks might find it interesting that Springfield, which is a municipality in Massachusetts that does have a residency requirement, is going to start enforcing that requirement this year.

Kind of.

They will require employees to certify where they live by February 1, but there is no plan to terminate employees who do not live in Springfield.

From the Springfield Republican:

The residency law was adopted in March 1995, requiring newly hired city employees from that date forward to live in Springfield and maintain residency. In addition, employees who have been promoted since 1995 are also required to live in Springfield.

However, teachers, firefighters and police are among employees exempt from the residency requirement either by contract or state law. In addition, 35 of 37 city employees and supervisors granted waivers received them since 2007 by either Mayor Domenic J. Sarno or the former Springfield Finance Control Board.

I recommend reading the whole article.  Among other interesting tidbits, 67% (!) of Springfield teachers live outside of the city.  (And they are one of the groups who is exempt from the law.)

I’m no fan of these kinds of ordinances because they’re tough to enforce and because I don’t think the “you can only do a good job if you live where you work” argument holds up.

But this is well worth filing away for the next time Worcester starts talking about residency requirements.


State of the Cheap, 2001-2011

The past decade or so has been one of ups & downs for bargain hunters.  Whether you’re looking for inexpensive clothing, discount general merchandise or low-cost foodstuffs, central Massachusetts has been on a bit of a rollercoaster this past decade.

We’ve seen the rise of second-hand “thrift” shops from places where the folks on the lowest economic rungs bought society’s iffiest cast-offs becoming places where middle class folks shop for items that may only be barely (if ever) used.  The Salvation Army shop downtown having moved from its run-down location on Blackstone St. now occupies a nicely rehabbed factory building on Cambridge St.  Goodwill has a modern shop on Park Avenue, and two Saver’s stores have set up within the city.  With the addition of Craigslist & Freecycle, numerous smaller thrift shops, and the proliferation of consignment shops (especially in the Canal District), there are now lots of places to get cheap or free household goods & clothing.  The past decade has been mostly good for thrifty shoppers of such items.

These past ten years have witnessed the departure of several area bookstores, both small & large.  Another Story book shop near Webster Square and Tatnuck Bookseller on Chandler Street both closed their doors in the past decade, and more recently Ben Franklin Books and Borders have also exited the scene.  There are a few book shops left (Annie’s Book Stop and Beech Tree being closest), but they’re fighting a losing battle for business against the better selection & prices available online from places like and Amazon.  This decade now gone by may be a mixed bag for book-buying consumers, but has certainly been bad for local book sellers.

In the realm of general merchandise, smaller local stores have gone under in recent years while national “big box” chains like Walmart & Target have mopped up their customers.  We’re left with prices & selection that, though reasonably good, are bland.  Gone is the quirkiness of a Spag’s or the no-frills deals offered by The Fair.  If you want an eclectic mix of merchandise & better-than-average prices, a place like Ocean State Job Lots, Building 19 or Big Lots are your best bet.

In the area of groceries, we’ve got tons of choice if you don’t mind being ripped off regularly.  Small grocers of the past like Iandoli, Fortin’s or Goretti’s have been replaced with larger, expensive chains like Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Big Y & Price Chopper, each of which require shoppers to carry a loyalty card in order to claim whatever meager savings are on offer each week.  As something of an antidote, the past decade has seen the arrival of Price Rite & Aldi, which offer cheaper prices . . . but with less selection than their competitors.  More recently, Wegman’s has arrived in Northborough, and although cheaper than other grocers in the Route 9 corridor east of Worcester, are still relatively expensive.

For bargain grocery shoppers in central Massachusetts, the loss in 2008 of Duffy’s Discount left a void that has yet to be filled.  For many years Duffy’s had operated in an old mill building on the Worcester side of the Worcester/Leicester line on Route 9, and later moved down the street to a former supermarket building in Cherry Valley.  Duffy’s was a retail outlet run by grocery supplier Millbrook Distributors in Leicester for the purpose of selling off overstocked grocery goods and items whose expiration date was approaching.  About 4 years ago, Millbrook was bought by United Natural Foods, which promptly shut down Duffy’s.  United Natural Foods does run a few small outlet shops at some of their many warehouse sites for such overstock/expiring goods as were sold at Duffy’s, but not at the Leicester facility they acquired with Millbrook Distributors.

Duffy's in 2008 in their Cherry Valley location (a former Goretti's location)

It’s possible to find some such foodstuffs at Building 19, but with the closure in 2011 of their Grafton Street location, your chances of finding a good deal on something you need are effectively halved.  The selection at the Shrewsbury store was never a mirror image of what was on sale at Grafton St. — a trip to both stores on any given day was likely to net you a noticeably different cartful from either store.

Ocean State Job Lots, with locations in Southbridge & Westborough, does offer some deals on canned & dry goods, and the selection is better than Building 19, but you’d best know what prices are good ahead of time — not everything is a bargain at OSJL.  (Ditto Big Lots, with locations at the Greendale Mall, and in Milford and Fitchburg.)

The shopping landscape has changed a lot since the turn of the 21st century.  We’ve now got lots of big-box supermarkets fleecing us for our grocery dollars; big-box super-centers selling us a bland assortment of goods that are only cheap because they’re manufactured in low-wage countries; and big-box book stores selling us a bland assortment of hip-for-the-moment bestsellers along with over-priced hot beverages in their en-suite cafés.

What’s a thrifty Yank to do if he or she wants selection & good prices?  Are there any stores/markets not mentioned above which offer better-than-average prices and/or better selection?