When Cindy Blum announced her seriously stylish and ambitious plan to visit 60 — count them 60 — T.J. Maxx's, Marshalls, and HomeGoods stores as the ultimate way to celebrate six well-lived decades on this here fashionable earth, her friends gasped.
Next, they giggled.
And then, like any good haute homies would, Blum's chums volunteered to go shopping with her.
Blum, her besties, her sister, and her hubby, Richard, visited 59 of the off-price fashion and home decor locations in six states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Tennessee, and Florida. The crew of bargain shoppers even started an inside joke: How long does it take to get to the Shore from Abington? It depends on how many T.J. Maxx's, Marshalls, and HomeGoods stores are on the way.
On Saturday — a week and a day before her 61st birthday — Blum visited her final store, the T.J. Maxx in Abington. And she didn't just pop in for a pair of Kate Spade shades or Franco Sarto wedges and call it a year. This was an extra-special trip. So TJX Cos. Inc. in Massachusetts, parent company of Blum's favorite off-price trifecta, threw her quite the fabulous fete, with food, drinks, balloons, and a $1,000 gift card good at all three stores.
"I just can't believe it," Blum said as she thanked dozens of family and friends, who joined her at T.J. Maxx on Saturday for a beverage and a bargain. Blum was all smiles in a black, cap-sleeved Calvin Klein sheath, sensible Sam Edelman wedges, and a gold Reiss necklace — all of which she picked up this year on her various shopping sojourns. In her manicured hand was a lined journal filled with photos of her smiling and shopping in front of all of the stores she visited. She treated the book like a travelogue.
"When I started this, I didn't think it would become this. This is so exciting," she said, her voice pulsating with the kind of glee when you have a good shopping trip every week for a full year.
I don't know about you, but Blum's story makes me want to go on a T.J. Maxx shopping expedition myself. In fact, just last week, I popped in to one with my shopping buddy and bought a pair of comfy, nude CL by Laundry wedges for $19 that I'm wearing as I write this.
Blum and I are not alone in our love for the Maxx.
As department stores try to turn around years of lackluster sales and compete with online shopping, off-price retailers, especially T.J. Maxx — which reported an uptick in first-quarter sales in February — continue to do well.
"People like the treasure trove," said Floris van Dijkum, a retail analyst at the Conchocken investment research firm Boenning & Scattergood. "They offer value, good value, and it's cheaper … a lot cheaper."
The idea of shopping for labels at a fraction of the price is what lures people in. Though that's a big part of it, the bottom line is that many of us live for the hunt — digging through the piles or leafing through the racks to find that perfect piece you didn't think you'd need. To top it all off, when you find that hidden gem — and it's way below market value — you can brag about it. That was literally Burlington Coat Factory's tagline. When we leave, we feel like we've won, and that explains Blum's sense of accomplishment at completing this goal.
Hunting for bargains is a part of Blum's makeup. She grew up one of three in the Northeast with a single mom, who outfitted them at the similarly low-priced, now-defunct Korvettes department store.
In 1977, Blum's older sister, Debbie Meyrowitz-Weiss, who, for the record, did not remember this first trip, took Blum to a Marshalls on Long Island.
"Back then, the stuff was defective, so you had to look through each piece," Blum said. "But I loved it. I bought a pair of pants for $7 and I got really excited. I thought, 'I can really do this.' "
Blum married, had two children, and continued to shop at Marshalls. Her favorite location, whether she was back-to-school or Christmas shopping, was the one on Welsh Road, right off the Boulevard.
In 1995, TJX Cos. Inc. bought Marshalls, and though Blum had dabbled at the Maxx, once the conglomerate bought Marshalls, it was a go.
"If you look at our pantry, you can find food — especially nuts — that we got from T.J. Maxx." said Blum's husband of 37 years, Richard.
Blum's favorite purchase ever?
"I found a North Face coat for my daughter at Marshalls 10 years ago when North Face was really hot," she almost squealed. "A North Face! At Marshalls!"
Last year, Blum celebrated the big 6-0 at her Shore home in Ventnor. But when it rained, Blum didn't complain, she just headed to, well, T.J. Maxx.
When she got home, family friend Stuart Levin suggested she visit 60 T.J. Maxx stores in one year. "But Richard … Richard wasn't too happy," Levin said.
On some weekends, Blum said, she'd visit two or three Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and HomeGoods stores. And some weeks she wouldn't go at all.
"She used to carry a white board with her and write, number 16, number 18, number 24, and take a picture in front of the store," said friend Valerie Harris. "It really was a lot of fun."
In April, Blum wrote a letter to TJX Cos. executives. And they were impressed. Hence the birthday party.
But her friends don't think the recognition should stop there. After all, Blum, who bought two summer blouses before she left T.J. Maxx that day, has already planned her next several trips.
"I think they should just make her the new face of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls," surmised another friend and fellow shopper, Margie Kramer.