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Bessemer’s Bargain Town, Once Part of Large Chain, Closes Last Store for Good

Many racks were bare on the final day of business at Bessemer's Bargain Town USA, the country's last Bargain Town.(Solomon Crenshaw Jr., For The Birmingham Times)
By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times

Before Family Dollar and Dollar General, there was Bargain Town and its well-known jingle that was a soundtrack for area customers.

Lynn Pruitt, of Northside Bessemer, admitted he couldn’t quite remember the jingle that was so familiar in the heyday of his favorite store.

For family clothing
Biggest values abound,
At the discount store
called Bargain Town.

“It’s ringing a bell,” Pruitt said on Saturday, Jan. 21, “but I haven’t heard it in a while.”

They buy for less
So they can sell for less,
The money you save
Will bring you happiness.

But Pruitt has no trouble remembering the retail outlet that’s been a regular stop throughout his life.

That’s why people all over town say,
“If you like bargains, you’ll love Bargain Town
….U! S! A!”

“When I was younger, [Bargain Town] was here (in Bessemer),” the 63-year-old said. “It was here before a lot of these stores around here. When you say history, you’re talking about when I grew up, when I was a young boy.

“Bargain Town was home, home to everybody,” Pruitt continued. “You didn’t have all your other stuff, your Family Dollar and Dollar General and all these places around here.”

Now Pruitt and other loyal patrons of Bargain Town don’t have it any more. The store, located 2000 Second Ave. North, had its final day of business on Saturday, Jan. 21. It was the last Bargain Town in the once large chain of discount stores.

At one time, according to a 1971 (newspaper) advertisement Bargain Town had at least 25 locations that included North Birmingham, Pell City, Leeds, Oneonta, Dora, Fairfield, Alabaster, Jasper, Graysville, Bessemer and Warrior. The chain extended from Columbia, Tenn., to Troy.

According to birminghamrewound.com, Bargain Town was formed in 1957 by Max Corenblum and Morris Barstein, who started operating War Surplus Stores. Later Morris’ son, Mervyn Barstein, joined the company.

The current store and district managers declined comment, referring questions to the corporate headquarters in Henderson, N.C., for Variety Wholesalers, whose stores include Roses, Roses Express and Maxway. Messages left at Variety Wholesalers have yielded no response.

While signs outside the store at the corner of Second Avenue North and 20th Street in Bessemer said Bargain Town, purchased merchandise was put in bags branded with the other store names.

Large sections of the store were missing goods as the process began weeks before to scale back before shutting down. Since closing, inventory has been collected and taken to other stores, including Roses Express in Forestdale and Crestwood, and Maxway in Five Points West and North Birmingham.

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‘Find Darn Near Anything’

Kenyetta Watkins of the Southside of Bessemer has been a Bargain Town shopper since coming to the city in 2016. She stepped up her visits in the weeks prior to the store closing.

“I’ve known (about the closing) for a couple of weeks now,” she said. “It’s kind of disappointing because … this is like the only place where you can kind of get clothes, get snacks, household products, things like that.”

Or at least they did until the company stopped restocking inventory to prepare for closing.

“They announced about a month ago they were closing,” Watkins said. “I was like, I’ll try to come as much as I can. We’ve been here at least about five times in the last month just to get what we can while they’re open.”

Best friends Rosa Scott and Annie Jemison, both of Bessemer’s Jonesboro community, have been lifelong Bargain Town customers. Scott said she’s been coming to Bargain Town about 60 years.

“We like the store,” Scott said. “It’s convenient. We like the prices.”

“And,” added Jemison, “it has bargains.”

Scott wished that her favorite store wouldn’t leave. “I wish it would stay here,” she said. “I know a lot of other people feel the same way but I don’t know their business, the economics of the store. But I’m going to miss it.”

Pruitt had actually concluded his shopping at Bargain Town on the store’s final day but a phone call from his sister gave him a bonus visit.

“My sister asked me to go in there and get her a rake before I leave,” he recounted.
Pruitt’s sister wanted a soft rake but the limited inventory meant he had to get her a hard rake.

“You come to Bargain Town and find darn near anything you wanna find,” he said. “And it’s convenient. You ain’t gotta worry about going to do this and do that. You walk right in here and walk right out. Bargain Town, that’s a place I’ve been shopping all my life.”

The Bargain Town store jingle can be heard via this YouTube recording: