WATERLOO — Deb Borwig used to drive 30 minutes one way to Independence just to get groceries — even though she lives within a couple minutes of several grocery stores.
The drive was worth it, she said, because she could get her groceries for rock-bottom prices she couldn’t find anywhere around here — and she said, based on the number of Bremer and Black Hawk County license plates she saw at any one of the four Amish stores she’d go to, she wasn’t alone.
Eventually, Borwig — who spent eight years working for Hy-Vee in Waterloo — figured there was probably a market for discount groceries in the Cedar Valley.
On Jan. 2, Borwig opened up Frugal Finds Market, leasing a space inside the former Pioneer Graphics building on West Fifth Street in downtown Waterloo.
“My true vision is to help people on a fixed income make their dollar go farther,” she said.
The 4,000-square-foot space — with another 4,000 square feet of storage — features a wide selection that varies by the day, depending on what comes off the trucks, which Borwig gets by scouring the internet and bidding late into the night for them.
She has three main suppliers: One specializes in trailers that were stopped for long periods of time or tipped over, their contents spilling out. Another supplier gets her the so-called “short-dated” goods, or products that just expired or are about to do so. (She noted she checked, both with the federal and state governments, that it was legal to stock expired goods.) The third supplier specializes in canned goods.
Most grocery stores turn these kinds of products down. Borwig’s store model is to scoop them up and sell them at highly reduced prices: Cans of Pepsi and Coke, for example, sell for a quarter each at Frugal Finds, and full-size candy bars are two for $1.
She reports she’s been seeing around 100 customers per day since she opened a couple of weeks ago.
“They’re excited they don’t have to drive to Independence,” she said. “They can save that drive.”
Printouts on the fridge and freezer sections let customers know how to read sell-by dates, and how to keep food lasting longer (mostly, pop it in the freezer unless you’ll be eating it that day). Borwig said she also stocks fresh milk, eggs and bread.
Besides groceries, Frugal Finds Market also sells used or slightly dinged furniture and home decor, which Borwig finds due to “insomnia,” she said: She’s constantly scouring the internet, bidding blind on truckloads of goods, then sorting through them when it comes to her store.
She points out a poker table on the floor, in fine condition save for a puncture in the top, that she said goes for $250 online. She’s selling it for half that — or was, as of this writing.
Her store isn’t meant to fill all of the needs of her customers, she said.
“You’re not going to be able to come here with your grocery list — but if you come here with your list, you can find some things cheaper,” Borwig said.
Word has spread about her store, particularly on Facebook, where she mostly posts furniture and other unique items. Her page has more than 1,000 likes so far.
Her store is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed on Sundays. She has seven part-time employees working for her, and she takes EBT.
“If you need it, call me, I’ll find it — because I don’t sleep at night,” Borwig said.