Ultimate Bargain-Shopping Guide
Where to find the best deals on great stuff in the city and beyond
For store addresses, phone numbers, and Web sites, click here
BABY AND KIDS' CLOTHES
The Madison and Friends Outlet, an outlet for the main stores of Madison and Friends and The Denim Lounge, carries sale merchandise, sample sizes, and limited-edition items for a mix of current-season, end-of-season, and manufacturer-consignment merchandise, all in the same name brands as the parent stores, including the children's lines Flowers by Zoe, La Rok, and Joe's Jeans. New pieces arrive every ten days (call to find out when), all marked down 30 to 90 percent off original prices; all sales are final. Now that Jacadi has shuttered its Water Tower and Northbrook Court stores, the brand no longer has a full-price retail presence in Illinois. The outlet in Aurora is the only place in the area to find the gorgeous but expensive line of French children's clothing at markdowns from 25 to 75 percent on end-of-season styles. We saw a summery white dress marked down to $25.99 from $102. Syms carries a large selection of boys' suits, including Van Heusen ($39.99 from $75) and Calvin Klein ($99 from $195). For basics, the Gymboree Outlet recreates styles a year after they appear in the regular store, at 20 to 30 percent off the original prices. Selected locations of H&M carry the store's edgy, modern line for babies and kids at its usual low price: two tees for $12.90, embellished jeans for $16.99, polos for $12.90, and graphic-print hoodies for $9.99.
The consignment and resale shop The Second Child can seem unpleasantly crammed, but you can find choice pieces of impeccable baby and children's clothing (some never worn) in infant sizes through children's size 14, organized by size and gender. The boutique frequently has top-dollar brands such as Oilily and Lilly Pulitzer. We spotted toddler Pediped shoes, still in the original packaging, for $14.25; a red velvet holiday dress from The Gap for $15.25; and a green puffy vest for boys for $15.25. The store is better for girls' formalwear than boys'.
The Abercrombie Outlet is part outlet, part factory store, with a combination of overstock from the regular-price stores and some pieces made specifically for the outlet. Kids' T-shirts were $12.90 (marked down from $24), regular-size tees were $9.99 to $12.99, and logo sweats were only $9.99 (marked down from $39.80). Conveniently located next door at the mall in Aurora is the company's other tween favorite, the Hollister Co. Outlet, an outlet of the surf-inspired apparel brand. We spotted a crisp button-down boy's shirt for $19.90 (originally $39.50), a girl's soft hoodie for $24.90 (originally $49.80), and boys' and girls' jeans for $19.99 (originally $31.50). Shop during clearance sales to snag tops, tees, and tanks for $15 or less.
Aéropostale, a more affordable Abercrombie & Fitch competitor, and Zumiez, which makes clothing inspired by snow- and skateboarding gear, are popular destinations at the outlet malls in Aurora and Gurnee.
For expectant moms who want designer duds, The Second Child, better known for its resale children's clothing, has a surprisingly good selection of maternity tops, bottoms, and dresses in a range of sizes. On a recent visit, we spotted Chip & Pepper jeans for $66 (which usually retail for around $165) and a Pea in the Pod jersey dress for $42.50 (usually about $200).
The Bucktown shop Belly Dance Maternity has a final-sale outlet at its Web site. Recently spotted there: flattering Empire-waisted tops from Japanese Weekend marked down from $68 to $30, a stunning Susana Monaco shift dress marked down from $200 to $60, and a top from Olian Paris marked down from $114 to $10. Sign up at the Web site to receive the store's e-mail alerts for upcoming sales, including the big warehouse sale held once every couple of years (the most recent was this past May), with maternity clothes sold for $10 to $50.
Stock up on basics at Old Navy, where tees start at $12.50 and pants average $32.50. The Maternity by Liz Lange line at Target is good for work wear—Empire tops run $14.99 to $19.99, utilitarian gauchos are $12.99, and black-and-white-patterned wrap dresses are $29.99. Motherhood Maternity Outlet is worth a stop for jeans with stretchy waistbands ($15.99) and T-shirts ($9.98 for two or more).
White Chicago, the elegant River North bridal boutique, sells never-worn sample pieces and once-worn designer gowns from brands such as Vera Wang, Reem Acra, and Monique Lhullier, all at 30 to 70 percent off retail. I Do! is worth the trek down Belmont for its vintage and resale wedding gowns and veils for half the price of those found elsewhere. The store also carries a small selection of reasonably priced new dresses. Here Comes the Bride, a discount bridal shop in a strip mall, has a vast array of samples from designers such as Angelina Faccenda, Mori Lee, and Nicole Miller at discounts up to 70 percent off retail. Weddings 826, a boutique in Lincoln Park, sells samples, manufacturer overruns, and discontinued styles from designers such as Melissa Sweet and Jim Hjelm. The selection changes daily, and prices average $1,400. For shoes, Blue Tux Boutique sells wedding and evening shoes at fairly reasonable regular prices (average is $100) but offers great sales both in-store and online at bluetuxshoes.com, where we saw certain styles of satin sandals and slingbacks for $25.
WOMEN'S DESIGNER CLOTHING
The queen of the off-price designer destinations is Beta Boutique, tucked away on a tiny street in Bucktown. Designer samples and boutique overstock are priced 40 to 90 percent off. On a recent visit, we spotted a pretty white top from Castle Starr for $280 from $329, a va-va-voomy Catherine Malandrino sequined black dress for $268 from $795, and a Serfontaine denim jacket for $48 from $228. At the shop's Web site, get on the mailing list for its semiannual Stacked Rack sales, with even more deals up to 90 percent off.
Filene's Basement has a great selection of designers like Twelfth Street, Lilly Pulitzer, Elie Tahari, and BCBG. We found a Kensie sweater marked for $24.99 from $78 and useful fall basics like merino-wool sweaters for $24.99. Loehmann's usually carries brand names like BCBG, Theory, Dana Buchman, and DKNY. We spotted a beautiful Cynthia Steffe tank dress ($79.99 from $339) and a green flowered skirt from Max Studio ($29.99 from $78). Nordstrom Rack also has a good selection of designers including Eileen Fisher, DKNY, and Anne Klein (we spotted a two-piece suit for $93.99 from $189). Fox's carries trendy current-season styles at 40 to 70 percent off; most of the inventory is manufacturer overruns or comes from canceled orders. The larger Skokie location carries shoes.
At the Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora, we like Theory, where we found a silk tank dress marked from $275 to $165, tees marked from $55 to $30, and many skirts for $59. Elie Tahari also offers big discounts, especially when we visited in July during an end-of-season sale; we found a turquoise-print shift dress for $192 from nearly $500 and many skirts marked for less than $100 (from original prices around $200). Michael Kors is worth a stop for its breadth of current-season selection, although the discounts are not as deep as elsewhere in the mall. We found dark-wash jeans for $79.99 from $89.50 and third-off markdowns on handbags and accessories.
The best of the secondhand designer shops are McShane's Exchange, where Chanel, Versace, and Christian Dior may line the racks; The Daisy Shop, which carries impeccable current and vintage clothing from more than 150 couturiers, including Versace, Valentino, Alexander McQueen, and St. John; and the River North gem Designer Resale, which stocks Yves Saint Laurent, Jil Sander, Chanel, and Armani at discount prices.
WOMEN'S WORK CLOTHES
The Michigan Avenue location of Filene's Basement dedicates a section to suits in an impressive array of sizes from big brands such as DKNY and Tahari by Arthur S. Levine; we saw an Anne Klein skirt suit on sale for $99.99 from $320. Syms also had a selection of designer suits from Calvin Klein ($99 from $180), Anne Klein, and Kasper. Petite and tall women should get on the mailing list for the online sales at Ann Taylor Loft—items in those categories are plentiful and deeply discounted; we found a herringbone button-front skirt for $24.99 from $69.
WOMEN'S CASUAL CLOTHES
The Eileen Fisher Outlet, one of only four nationwide, carries merchandise from the full-price Eileen Fisher stores, department stores, and catalog warehouses. New arrivals are marked at 40 percent off retail, with many end-of-season items marked 50 to 70 percent off, all covering the gamut of her muted palette sportswear, in washable wools, silks, crepes, and jerseys. The Lands' End Inlet stores are also worth a look. Sail past the new merchandise to the outlet areas, which carry overstocks, returns, and irregulars from the catalog, discounted at up to 70 percent off.
For good-quality secondhand casualwear, some of the best (and, what's more important, most consistent) resale shops include the two locations of Clothes Mentor, which is targeted to women over 30 and carries mall brands at up to 80 percent off, like Coldwater Creek, Ann Taylor, Chico's, and Ralph Lauren. The stores are well organized and easier to browse than most thrift stores, and prices average $9. Buy Choice Resale, also specializes in moderately priced duds from the likes of Banana Republic, Gap, The Limited, and Anthropologie in nearly new condition.
At the Nordstrom Rack in Schaumburg, we spotted a gorgeous double-breasted fall coat from Tulle, available in multiple sizes and four colors, just $39.97 from $108 (we took home a chevron-stitched down vest for $12.97). At Syms, an Anne Klein trench was $59 from $100, a black cashmere overcoat was $99 from $250, and lurking deep in the racks was a Marc by Marc Jacobs leather vest for $119 from $275. Although shopping at the Burlington Coat Factory requires sifting through a fair amount of junk, the discounter excels in its selection of utilitarian coats such as a reversible bubble vest for $19.99 from $38, a lightweight London Fog trench for $99.99 from $200, and lots of Columbia ski jackets for less than $100 apiece.
The hands-down best destination for men is Morris & Sons, formerly located on Roosevelt Road, which has an impeccable selection of European designer suits, shirts, ties, and accessories—all current season, all frequently available for great deals during special sales. (Labels remain intact, but we promised not to list them here since full-price retailers get testy about their crosstown competition.) The South Loop institution Eisenstein Clothing carries a big selection of discounted designer shirts, ties, and coats that are irregulars, overruns, returns, and salesperson samples, some up to 75 percent off. Note that the labels are removed by the manufacturer before arriving here, but the cuts, tailoring, and quality are top of the line.
Suits 20/20, once called Imperial Clothiers, specializes in suits, sports coats, shirts, pants, and accessories from department-store labels like Kenneth Cole, Michael Kors, and Ralph Lauren at 40 to 60 percent off. More than 2,000 designer suits are stocked at any given time, but the helpful sales staff is the reason to go.
Two of the biggest discount retailers that specialize in midrange brands are Irv's Men's Store, which offers 35 to 50 percent off suits, shirts, and sports coats, and the Men's Wearhouse, with discounts typically in the 20- to 30-percent-off range. Both retailers sell first-quality merchandise (no outlet items or overruns). The Men's Wearhouse also operates formalwear outposts under M.W. Tux, and Chicago is home to one of its outlets, the M.W. Tux Outlet, which carries clearance and used tuxedos on its sale racks; we saw vest-and-tie sets for $25, jackets for $79.99, and pants for as low as $19.99.
Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th is good for designer ties, shirts, and suits. We spotted ties from Canali and Ermenegildo Zegna marked as low as $29.99, suits for $898.99 from $1,895, and shirts from Emanuel Ungaro and Burberry for $149.99 from $278. Nordstrom Rack had a huge selection of work shirts from Canali, Ben Sherman, Bugatchi, Zegna, and Burberry, ($34.97 from $89.50), with Nordstrom-brand shirts for as low as $29.97. On a recent trip, we saw suits from Joseph Abboud and John Varvatos, a Burberry coat for $499.97 from $895, and a black pinstripe jacket by Calvin Klein for $259.97 from $525. Filene's Basement, especially the Michigan Avenue location, also has a good selection of men's brands, with suits from Michael Kors and Hickey Freeman ($599.99 from $1,295) and dress pants from Kenneth Cole ($39.99 from $85) and Geoffrey Beene.
Full-price Armani suits run upward of $1,000, but the Giorgio Armani Outlet dedicates about 40 percent of its store to suits and sports coats that are discounted 25 to 50 percent. The clothing is first quality but a season behind; we spotted at least three suits marked for around $700, with a few as low as $500.
The selection at the Mark Shale Outlet can be hit-or-miss, but the store is bright and well organized, with brands like Tommy Bahama, Robert Graham, Joseph Abboud, and Hugo Boss at 30 to 80 percent off. We spotted a Canali sports coat for $647.50 from $1,295. The end-of-season sales are blowouts. Both locations of Elliott Consignment have fairly large men's sections, where you can find previously owned work clothes, like a Brooks Brothers shirt for $9.
One Yellow Shoe, tucked into a lower-level space on Wells Street in Old Town, stocks in-season dressy and casual shoes for women from Bernie Mev and designer knockoffs from Oh . . . Deer! that are mostly $100 or less, with some as low as $25. The end-of-season sales are outstanding.
Aldo Liquidation, a recent addition to Wicker Park, carries overstock merchandise from the full-price stores for both men and women. We spotted heeled sandals for $24.98 from $60, a knockoff of a Tory Burch ballet flat for $35, and an Ugg boot look-alike for $29.99. Just around the corner is the Alternatives Outlet, which is smaller than Aldo but has a decent selection of men's and women's shoes with significant markdowns. We saw at least three pairs of heels for $49.99 from $129, and men's dress shoes for $149 from $249. The Nine West Outlet carries shoes made just for the outlet that are modeled after and priced lower than those seen in the regular stores. We found boots for $39.99 from $79.99, lots of heels marked for $49.99, and flats and sandals for $19.99.
LuLu's at the Belle Kay, a high-end vintage clothing boutique in Lincoln Square, is the sole source for Brian Atwood samples, in 30 different styles at any given time, selling for $125 to $350 a pair. Atwood, the model-turned-accessories-designer-for-Versace, started his edgy shoe line in 2001; he recently became the creative director for Bally, the Swiss luxury shoe and accessories company. (His mom, Dusty Stemer, is good friends with Laurie Davis, the owner of LuLu's.) We spotted a pair of current-season, peep-toe d'Orsay stilettos with Swarovski-crystal brooches, in a size 40, for $125 from $895. Davis gets two big shipments a year and expects the next in February 2009.
The extensive, well-organized selection at Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, the luxury department store's outlet, recently included shades from Coach, D&G, Chloé, and Burberry, all at $59.99 a pair for frames that were originally $150 and up; Gucci sunglasses were $119.99 from $350. The prices were similar at Filene's Basement, with Prada frames marked at $99.99 and D&G shades for $59.99, as well as lower-priced options from Lacoste, BCBG ($29.99), and Betsey Johnson (around $29.99). Loehmann's frequently has Coach sunglasses (marked $100 from original prices of $178 to $268), as well as some from Tom Ford and Donna Karan. The discounts at Fox's are even better; we saw Vera Wang shades for $39, Carolina Herrera for $69, and Cynthia Rowley for $29. For sportier frames, the Oakley Vault carries overstock such as wraparounds, originally $80, marked down to $19. For a nearly disposable pair, you'll find fashiony styles at Target, where Isaac Mizrahi's designs are $20 or less. Forever 21 has a good selection of hipster options for less than $6; H&M, for less than $8.
Antique and Resale Shoppe, an overlooked gem in Edison Park, carries vintage items from pottery to clothing. But the standout is its vintage and costume jewelry, in drawers upon drawers, organized by type: pins, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, and rings, including the old Bakelite and art deco pieces that are back with a vengeance. Many of the beaded necklaces are the real-deal originals of the copies popping up in boutiques—at half the cost. For basics like hoop earrings ($3) and beaded necklaces ($30 or less), as well as cubic zirconia jewelry suitable for bridesmaid duty and prom, go to Kohl's, which carries a wide and reliable selection.
At the well-organized Samsonite Factory Outlet, a 28-inch roller model in red was marked down from $280 to $149.99, a 29-inch hard-sided roller was marked down from $470 to $319.95, and a wheeled duffle bag was marked down from $175 to $99.99. Irv's Luggage Warehouse carries closeouts and discontinued items of first-quality luggage (no irregulars), stocked alongside its high-end new merchandise that includes Briggs & Riley and Tumi. A discontinued collection from the Swiss Army Victorinox line was 30 percent off, with a 27-inch wheeled bag down to $635.99 from $795. Similarly, City Traveler, part of the That's Our Bag chain, buys luggage in bulk and offers discontinued items mixed in with the new. Some recent deals included an American Tourister 30-inch upright for $159.99 (from $420) and a TravelPro rolling tote for the same price (from $320). Deals abound on its Web site, thatsourbag.com.
The discount store T.J. Maxx, particularly the Gurnee Mills location, is a reliable destination for its great selection of name-brand luggage. We spotted a United Colors of Benetton 20-inch roller for $79.99 from $118 and a 25-inch Olympia bag for $49.99 from $100; other lines included Tommy Hilfiger, Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren, and High Sierra.
The Kate Spade Outlet at the mall in Aurora carries overstock from full-price stores as well as reprints of popular old patterns created specifically for the outlet. (For instance, a favorite fabric may be reprinted on a bag shape that was not available in its original run.) We found a white leather Dulcie bag, sent from the Oak Street store, for $325 from $425; an animal-reprint tote for $250 from $325; and a blue leather clutch for $140 from $495. While there, stop by Dooney & Bourke, which sells overstock and discontinued bags in perfect condition as well as factory seconds labeled as irregular. We found a brown leather zip satchel for $210 from $525 and a leather domed satchel for $227 from $325.
The Naperville location of the resale shop Clothes Mentor has a well-organized wall dedicated to Coach handbags. (For those with impeccable Coach bags to sell, the shop pays cash or check.) Prices are generally between $50 and $100 for bags that retailed for $200 to $300, such as a Coach purse adorned with fur for $125, down from $420.
Among the discount department stores, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx are currently carrying brands such as Le Sportsac, Nine West, and Liz Claiborne at deep discounts but offer spotty access to big designers (although at the Gurnee location of T.J. Maxx we found a Donald J. Pliner leather satchel for $169.99 from $365). Loehmann's and Nordstrom Rack typically carry more designers (Cynthia Rowley, Betsey Johnson, and Hobo reliably, and we found a Kate Spade Tracy bucket bag for $89.97, marked down from $195, at Nordstrom Rack). But we have to give the edge to Filene's Basement, where we found a Furla black leather tote for $169.96 from $410, a tan Prada bag with leather straps for $479 from $650, and a good selection of Coach.
CARPETING AND RUGS
Roy's Furniture Company is well known for its first-apartment furniture. But the warehouselike venue in Lincoln Park also carries large Oriental-style and contemporary rugs that start at $189 for eight-by-ten-footers. Rexx Rug is a family-owned, full-service carpet emporium that happens to offer great prices on its selection of wall-to-wall wool and wool-blend carpeting in a limited palette of neutrals, installed for as low as $3.33 a foot. CB2 sells an edited selection of the affordable 20-inch carpet tiles from Flor ($6.95 to $14.95 apiece). Target is the place to go for area rugs on the cheap; for a baby's room, we spotted an adorable wool rug shaped like an animal skin with chocolate-brown zebra stripes, just $74.99, from the DwellStudio line.
FURNITURE AND ACCESSORIES
A sign on the front of Amphora Home reads "We May Look Expensive but We Sell One of a Kind New Furniture and Home Accessories at Wholesale or Below." There you'll find a jam-packed selection of Ralph Lauren and Stanley furniture prototypes and samples, including decorative pottery and large framed paintings, all priced reasonably.
Nadeau Imports stocks its warehouse store with furniture imported directly from China, Indonesia, and India—notably solid wood dressers, tables, armoires, and side tables. Recently, we saw five-foot-tall stone Buddha statues for $191 each, large organic petrified teak bowls for $46 each, and a chic set of round wood-and-cane side tables for $177 each.
Even midcentury-modern enthusiasts say it's hard to tell that the furniture from the European Furniture Warehouse is actually knocked off from famous furniture styles. The inventory comes from Italy and includes Saarinen-inspired dining sets, Barcelona-like leather chairs, and Noguchi-inspired glass coffee tables. We saw a leather Eames chair look-alike for $2,200, compared with $4,499 for the real thing at Design Within Reach. Even better was an Arco-style floor lamp for $400, compared with $2,696 for the name-brand version.
The Toms-Price Outlet Store hits every part of the furniture style spectrum from urban loft to traditional elegance. At this cavernous 20,000-square-foot outlet, you'll find brands like Stickley and Baker for every room of your house, plus rugs, accessories, and mattresses.
The Naperville location of the Crate & Barrel Outlet is the final resting place for the retailing giant's discounted furniture, including floor and vendor samples, irregular goods, assembled returns, and some limited first-quality merchandise. Half of the stock starts out around 50 percent off retail and, except for items marked as final reductions, is typically further discounted 10 percent later. The Chicago outlet carries limited furniture but has a nice selection of wineglasses, porcelain plates, and late-in-the-season accessories.
The interior designer Kim Tepper's by-appointment-only show room, Pearl Furniture, is where you can custom-order sofas, bedroom furniture, and dining-room sets from brands like Hooker Furniture and other big-name nationals, usually at 20 to 40 percent lower than retail. Be prepared and know what you want because Tepper enforces her no-returns policy.
FLOWERS AND GARDEN
Jayson Home & Garden recently demolished its basement outlet but will offer future periodic sales direct from its warehouse at Elston and Webster avenues (sign up for e-mail alerts at the Web site). The store's September garden sale is still a great destination for perennials, shrubs, trees, and a wide variety of garden pots and containers at 50 to 75 percent off. The big end-of-season sale at Gethsemane Garden Center happens every year the weekend after Labor Day, with discounts of 50 to 80 percent on plants, trees, shrubs, vases, statuary, and assorted garden-related housewares. At the beginning of the summer, JCPenney carries classic Adirondack chairs and ottomans in splashy colors for half the price we've seen elsewhere.
Home Depot is the go-to spot for low-priced annual plants and flowers but is perhaps less well known for its selection of potted orchids; the beautiful ones at the 2570 North Elston Avenue location are grown locally in Minooka, Illinois. A single-stemmed orchid—in white, purple, or magenta—costs just $16.96; a double-stemmed goes for $24.96. For cut flowers, Costco sells long-stemmed roses at $15.99 for a double-dozen bunch, which, as any pro florist will tell you, is a steal.
The closeout retailer Tuesday Morning sells a crazy mélange of everything from large-scale frames to baby toys to random Northwestern Wildcats paraphernalia. But you can score some choice finds like a full-size Dyson vacuum for $399. And its name-brand cookware is worth checking out before you pay full price; we saw a J. A. Henckel's bread knife for $45 and a 12-inch Cuisinart stainless-steel frying pan for $40.
The Le Creuset outlet store carries a wide selection of factory seconds and new and discontinued cookware (its line of enameled cookware in white, recently discontinued, was on sale there). Northwestern Cutlery & Supply offers while-you-wait knife sharpening ($3.50 per knife), has a nice, big case of new knives, and stocks a tightly edited selection of professional-grade kitchen tools, including baking supplies. But the reason to go is its everyday low prices on All-Clad and Le Creuset cookware, reliably 5 to 20 percent below retail. A five-quart covered buffet casserole from Le Creuset was just $195.95 (compared with $229.95 at Broadway Panhandler, New York's famous discount cookware emporium). A three-quart stainless-steel All-Clad sauté pan, including a lid, was a steal at $128.95.
Krasny & Co. is a restaurant supply warehouse that is open to the public, easy to navigate, and more friendly than most. It carries china, candles, barstools, salt and pepper shakers, whisks, tongs, and even Hershey's syrup, at 10 to 20 percent off.
If you're looking for basic cabinets for less than you'd find them at Home Depot, turn to Cabinet World, a local manufacturer with a show room in Chicago. For even deeper discounts, peruse the floor closeout models—we saw a bathroom sink and base for $385. The high-end Brazilian furniture and cabinet company Florense recently opened up shop in River North, and its cabinetry uses the same soft-closing drawer mechanism as a certain coveted Italian brand but costs half as much, partly because raw materials and production are cheaper in South America than in Europe. Ikea's "rationell" drawer dampers are also made by the same manufacturer that supplies Florense.
The savings at the Sears Outlet start at 20 percent off retail and go down from there for appliances that are either returned and refurbished or new but cosmetically damaged. You won't find any countertop appliances, and we saw only a few microwave ovens and some cordless drills. But if you're shopping for a refrigerator or washing machine, you'll find vast quantities of many current models from brand names such as KitchenAid, LG, Fisher & Paykel, GE, and, of course, Kenmore. We saw a counter-depth stainless-steel KitchenAid bottom-drawer refrigerator for $1,399.99 (from $2,799) and the newest model of the popular LG steam washer for $1,199.99 (from $1,599.99). Ranges, dishwashers, TVs, riding lawn mowers, and fitness equipment were also available in lesser quantities. Prices are not negotiable, but the outlet will match a lower outside price and take an additional 10 percent off.
The Plass Addison Outlet Center takes in cosmetically damaged merchandise, discontinued models, and never-used returns from its six Chicago-area stores and sells them off from this no-frills warehouse. You'll have to weave your way through the appliances, but they are all new, though some are dented or scratched. We saw a gorgeous Sub-Zero refrigerator with only minor scratches on its face for $6,998.99 (from $8,398), a Dacor six-burner range for $5,061.99 (from $6,305), and a couple of slick stainless-steel Bosch dishwashers.
Abt Electronics, the high-end appliance emporium, isn't a discount destination per se, but its everyday prices are tough to beat and loyalists swear by the excellent service. You can always call the customer service number, 888-228-5800, and the sales rep will cheerfully check to see if they have in stock a return or floor sample of a particular appliance (have the model number ready). The new-but-returned inventory changes every day, and only some of it gets posted to the outlet section of the store's Web site—so call.
Shopping at the Home Owner's Bargain Outlet, or HOBO, as veteran shoppers call it, can be a challenge: The inventory is in piles, many unmarked. But real deals can be had on sinks, tiles, marble ($3.97 for a 12-inch square), bathroom cabinets, and mirrors. The Tile Outlet is located just west of Interstate 90/94 and stocks a diverse range of tile, from inexpensive vinyl and laminate to limestone, marble, and onyx. Everything is easy to see on display, and you may quickly notice that there are prices as low as $1 per tile. Community Home Supply has many affordable options for bathroom and kitchen fixtures at discounted prices.
From pendants to table lamps, Source of Light carries many modern designer lamps at lower-than-retail prices but doesn't advertise them. We were told the Philippe Starck Miss K table lamp could be ours for $255, compared with its usual price of $288. Lite Art buys directly from manufacturers, which makes possible its 30 percent discount, to say nothing of the semiannual 50-percent-off sales. The store stocks many elegant chandeliers and ceiling fans, outdoor lighting, and wall art. The assortment skews to traditional, but we did spot a Cellula chandelier replica with crystal pendants for $998, compared with $2,000 at Design Within Reach. A recent trip to Wal-Mart revealed an assortment of floor lamps that could easily blend into the show room at Restoration Hardware or CB2. We spotted a sturdy brushed-nickel floor lamp and a modern-looking tripod floor lamp, each $54.88.
TABLETOP AND SMALL ACCESSORIES
Under the T.J. Maxx corporate umbrella, HomeGoods has a massive inventory of everything you need to decorate at the 20- to-60-percent price discounts T.J. Maxx is known for. Beyond the bedding deals on favorite brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, we snagged a pair of $15 crystal candlesticks and saw area rugs as low as $149. Their kitchenware aisle was also chock-full of brands like Oxo, Cuisinart, Le Creuset, and Calphalon.
If you're the type who likes to get the Christmas shopping done in July, check out 1730 Outlet, which stocks discontinued and returned seasonal decor year-round. Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's, and Easter decorations are always available at low prices. Nonholiday items are plentiful, too, including cloth place mats ($2.25 each), tea towels, candles, and a small assortment of furniture.
The Pickard Factory Outlet Store displays high-quality seconds and slight irregulars from the family-owned china maker, in business since 1893, at 40 to 60 percent off. We saw an elegant black-and-gold-rimmed 11-piece set of china with barely perceptible flaws marked down from $484 to $270. Bonus: The outlet's museum, which wraps around the opposite wall of the store, showcases china from the past century, as well as White House china used by President George H. W. Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush, and their English springer spaniel, Millie.
United Feather & Down has a small outlet store attached to its massive factory on its own Des Plaines campus. Although the small selection of irregulars, old styles, and overstock can be hit-or-miss, especially for sizes, the outlet reliably has foam pillows, down comforters, and feather beds—one of which we spotted at $70 for a king size.
Go to Kohl's for its Apt. 9 brand of bedding, which includes chic patterned sheets, shams, duvets, and throw pillows. A full-size set was on sale for $139.99 (from $189.99). The department store also carries the stylish Vera Wang bedding line. We're also loving the beautifully floral Simply Shabby Chic line of bedding at Target, designed by Rachel Ashwell but made in China instead of handsewn in California. The Martha Stewart Everyday line for KMart boasts 400-thread-counts in gracefully simple designs; $69.99 for a full/queen duvet set is hard to beat.
L.Z. Products is a 75,000-square-foot warehouse west of Pilsen selling practically every kind of fabric at deep discounts. The owner, Sol Lieberman, says that 75 percent of his inventory is overstock and the rest is displayed fabric and trim to fill in the gaps; one shopper, an interior decorator who had driven two hours to shop there, said the upholstery fabrics were nicely current and sold for rock-bottom prices: $6.50 to $19.95 a yard, compared with $45 to $75 a yard elsewhere.
What Cut Rate Toys lacks in service frills—there's often just one worker on duty at the cash register—it makes up for in great prices on popular lines including Thomas the Train, Brio, Playmobil, Webkinz ($12.99 each, compared with $14.99 elsewhere), and Little Tikes.