Last Monday I spent a day at the Minnesota State Fair without spending $30, this time around I went hunting on Labor Day for the best "last day" deals.
I had intended to maximize my savings by haggling with vendors, but it soon became apparent (and confirmed by State Fair officials) that this practice is banned so that customers don't get affronted at paying more for certain products than others.
I actually managed to persuade one vendor to sell me one product for cheaper than the list price, but they swore me to secrecy and seemed genuinely troubled when I told them I was a reporter.
So my haggling hunt became a bargain hunt, looking for good-value gifts for my wife and infant son.
The West End
Flora's Clothing is my first stop, not because I like picking out women's clothing for my wife (I haven't tried as I assume I'd be terrible at it) but because the deal they have going is eye-catching: $10 for everything in store, except for tie-dyed clothes which are $20.
I don't buy anything (for the above reason) but I have a chat with the owner, which you can read more about here.
I head over to Solomon's Jewelry, and again have a conversation with the owner. The stall is also slashing prices, with 50 percent off all its manufactured jewelry and the shop assistants telling me that pieces you'd normally find in a store "for $20-$40" are being sold for $3-$6, not to mention some earrings that are going for $1 a pair.
I'm not averse to buying jewelry but it's a rare purchase. I move on without troubling my wallet.
My first purchase happens in the West End, and interestingly, it's not an item on sale. I buy a handmade wooden boat toy from Greg's Toys, which at $7 including tax I just found absurdly reasonable for something I think you'd pay double for in a store.
The owner tells me that her husband carves the toys himself so costs are kept pretty low, allowing them to keep things cheap at their stall.
I popped over to the Bead Jewelers, and again though most items were 50 percent off, I didn't find anything that took my fancy.
I almost buy from the "I Like You" store where there is a pint glass saying "Go Jump in a Lake," but there is no discount on it so I decide against paying $6.
Later on I look up the company, see they are Minnesota based selling crafts from artists and independent crafters, and regret not buying something from them.
I travel over to the bazaar-like surroundings of the Coliseum interior and the first thing I run into is the Horse Crazy Market stall, selling "Whinnysota" and "Whinnysconsin" horse-themed t-shirts, mugs and gifts to promote an upcoming Holiday Festival at the Coliseum in December.
With t-shirts for $10, down from $18, and mugs at $5 from $8 they are decent deals, but we're not really horse fans, so I move on without buying, leaving long faces behind me.
I stop at Usborne Books in the Coliseum next, looking for some children's books, but the only real offer going on for the last day is a pair of sticker books at $5 down from $8.99. One thought of how my son would handle stickers was enough to put me off.
Around the grounds
My eye is caught by a 50 percent off offer at the Rock Gardens store on Nelson St. Pretty much everything in the store is for sale either for 50 or 25 percent, but garden ornaments are definitely not my forte. The offers are good but my decorating knowledge is not.
RM Tack & Apparel on Judson also has a 50 percent off rack, but again, my ability at picking out clothes for other people...
Belts, Buckles and Hats across the road seems more like my kind of thing, useful if I'm planning on taking up line-dancing or cattle ranching anytime soon, but as they have a year-round online business outside of the fair, they aren't offering any last-day discounts.
It's around noon and the grandstand is packed; I can barely hear myself above the din of deals being made.
I pass by the Faribault Woolen Mills store and there is some serious price cutting going on – but that doesn't make it any more affordable for me!
Throws are $25 to $80, down from $65 to $180, while robes are down to $100 from $190, with discounts on pretty much everything else they have there. Although the product is quality and I'm sure it'd be something we'd use regularly, it's more than I'm willing to spend today.
Halloween costumes and Christmas sweaters? Now you're talking my language. There's a store at the upper Grandstand that has 50 percent off all costumes and Christmas sweaters at 2 for $25 (previously $22.99 each).
It's here that I make my second and ultimately final purchase, a Batman costume my son can wear come Halloween. Half-price at $6.50, it's as much as I'm willing to spend on something that can be worn for a single event that he'll have grown out of by Christmas.
The end – and some tips
As I come back to the Go Media stall I notice that the Minnesota Twins are slashing all kinds of prices on merchandise, with buy-one-get-one-free offers all over the place. By the time I get there it looks like much of the stuff I'd be interested in has gone, so I'm left cursing myself for not stopping over sooner.
I realize that because it's the last day of the fair, bargain-hunting tips are somewhat superfluous, but here's a few worth bearing in mind for next year:
- Keep an eye out for "Last Chance" signs, and ask the vendors what their Last Chance deal is.
- If it's possible to find out, look for stores that only show at the State Fair and don't have a major presence outside of it, or for whom the State Fair is their biggest event of the year. The deals tend to be better at these.
- Pick up a deals leaflet from the Information booths. There was still plenty of offers on last day because it was "Kids Day" again.
- Same goes for the coupons in the State Fair Blue Ribbon Bargain Book, which cost $5.
- You'll probably be unsuccessful at haggling, but if you manage it, promise not to tell anyone.