Salvaging My Soul

A year living in Geauga County's Amish Country brought many surprises. But maybe the greatest value was discovering the area's salvage stores.

We sat at the red light, enveloped in a dense fog that swirled around in the darkness.

Just then, as if the fog magically shaped itself, a large white horse emerged from the mist, pulling behind it a black Amish buggy. “Look, Mommy. It’s a unicorn!” gasped my daughter, Carolina, who was 4 years old at the time.

It’s one of my favorite memories of living in Geauga County’s Amish Country last year. But it pales in comparison to the first time my Amish friend Kathryn took me to Shedd Road Salvage store in Burton. That experience changed my life. Well, my shopping life, anyway.

Now, I’ve lived throughout Northeast Ohio: Grew up in Hudson, spent my single years in Lakewood, then married and moved to University Heights. All very nice suburbs. But I never experienced another way of life, like living in another country — or just living in the country.

That is until a book deal — based on a 2003 Cleveland Magazine article describing Dr. Heng Wang’s efforts to help Geauga County’s Amish community solve the mysteries behind their children’s rare afflictions — allowed me to move my three children to a very tiny house, on a very large farm, on a very dusty and muddy (depending on the weather) dirt road in Parkman, about 40 miles east of the heart of Cleveland on Route 422.

We had it all: escaped horses running through our front yard; dead mice in the laundry (my 11-year-old son, Joseph, handled that one for me!); and gourmet dining on freshly slaughtered, barbecued deer tenderloins.

Scattered in were some better memories, like the unicorn-in-the-fog moment, that will stay with me for a lifetime. Among my favorite are Kathryn’s scrumptious, melt-in-your-mouth iced sugar cookies and the vibrant pink and orange sunrises over the acres of drying cornstalks in my back yard.

But nothing matches discovering Amish Country’s magnificent salvage stores.

It started when Kathryn and I were comparing brands of canned soups. (Not everything the Amish eat is homemade. The first meal Kathryn cooked for me was Hamburger Helper, made with ground beef she had canned.)

Progresso soup was my favorite and I’d hit a sale at Giant Eagle for $1 a can — a great deal since the usual price is $2.57. So I brought her some chicken noodle.

“A dollar a can?” Kathryn scoffed. “I can get it for 50 cents.”

“No you can’t!”

I sounded like a kindergartner. But she couldn’t possibly know what she was talking about. Maybe you could get Campbell’s for 50 cents, but not my beloved Progresso.

Just then those words so familiar from playground taunting must have slipped out of my mouth, something like, “Prove it!”

“You drive!” she answered. (I had hoped she would. After all, I had never — and still haven’t — ridden in a horse-and-buggy.)

Not far down the road, around a corner, we turned into a short gravel drive that led to a white, rectangular building with a tiny sign: Shedd Road Salvage.

But it made me nervous: Am I allowed in here? I really had no idea if a Yankee — what the Amish call outsiders — could enter an Amish store that wasn’t in a tourist area.

The inside, with its simple design, was just as intimidating. Illuminated only by the bright afternoon sun pouring through the windows, it didn’t look like any grocery store I had ever been in. Four aisles of shelves, just about five feet tall, ran the length of the store. An odd mix of taco dinners, rice mixes and macaroni-and-cheese occupied the sparse front row. Three rows down, the cereal aisle was packed with an assortment of sugar-coated and whole-grain products.

Along the walls, boxes overflowed with cans. As Kathryn walked me over, there it was: Progresso soup for 50 cents a can.

Nirvana! … except for the dents.

My mother always told me to never buy a dented can for fear of botulism. (I discovered much later that botulin is evident by a bubble on top the can. Otherwise most dents are harmless.)

Salvage store owners buy truckloads of dented cans, smashed cereal boxes and other goods rejected by grocery stores. Owners rarely even know what they’ll receive. But that’s part of the treasure hunt appeal.

In February, I bought a 15-ounce box of Frosted Flakes that didn’t expire until August 2006. My kids will have devoured it long before that. And at $1.50 a box, it’s well worth a few cardboard creases and crinkles.

Shedd Road Salvage and Townline, in Middlefied, quickly became two of my favorite places for their quaint charm.

My all-time favorite find, though, was on my first trip to BandK Salvage in Middlefield. Despite the wood-burning stove in the center, BandK feels more like a “real” grocery store with tighter aisles (though they’re currently expanding) and shelves packed with a variety of products, including contact lens solution and kids’ bubble bath. The extensive stock means even lower prices on many items compared to smaller salvage stores.

There, on the shelf, were perfect 12-ounce bags of Starbucks whole coffee beans for $1.50 — the same bag you find in the grocery store for $8.99 or more.

“Must be stale,” my husband said cynically when I brought several bags home.

But it was just as tasty as a cup from the corner Starbucks.

That’s the thing about salvage stores. Sometimes, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with an item you find there.

I haven’t been lucky enough to find whole bean Starbucks on any subsequent trips to BandK. I did find some decaf bags for $1.75 at Townline, but I need my caffeine.

That’s one of my salvage shopping rules: Buy only products you know you’ll use. Otherwise, it’s not really a bargain. Unless, of course, you discover something you’ve always wanted to try, but didn’t want to pay full price.

I love to do this with wrinkle creams. Shopping for moisturizers can send me into a panic, which definitely doesn’t help those worry lines. I purchased Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer at a salvage store in Parkman, which I’m sad to say is now closed, for $3.50, much less than the $14.79 retail price.

And since Byler says Yankees represent around 90 percent of his business, we should feel welcome.

These stores are the perfect place for stocking up on kids’ treats or household staples such as canned tomatoes. BandK recently had three large cans for $1. But Tower Salvage in the Windsor/Orwell area sold them for 79 cents per can. Both beat the heck out of the grocery store price of $1.79.

I’m back in University Heights but still make regular pilgrimages to the salvage stores. I recently bought Cinnamon Roll Pop-Tarts for $1, Care Bears Fruit Snacks for $1.75, and Honey Nut Cheerios Milk ’n Cereal Bars for $1.25. My kids think they’re the ones who benefit from my trips. But the $4 tab is nearly half the pre-tax price of $7.95 for the same three items at Tops.
And, to me, that savings is even sweeter than Kathryn’s sugar cookies.

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