Looking to pick up a cool souvenir of your visit to the capital…without breaking the bank? It can be done, if you know where to look and what to say.
First, a word of warning for travellers from places where bargaining is the norm: you won’t have much luck trying to “make an offer” to the clerks in most Ottawa shops. For one thing, they rarely have the authority to haggle. Second, in most stores, the price is the price. Done deal, end of story.
As I described in some depth (shameless author plug coming!) in my 2003 book, The Urge to Splurge: A Social History of Shopping, set prices have been seen as the key to modern retail success in Canada pretty much since 1869, when Timothy Eaton opened his first dry-goods store in Toronto with a no-haggle policy. Eaton’s grew into a nationwide chain, other retailers took note, and bargaining was history. (So, eventually, was the now-defunct Eaton’s, but that’s another story.)
So when “let’s make a deal” is a no-no in most situations, what’s a frugal bargain hunter to do?
Get out your needle and thread–or staple gun
Many clerks do have authority to give you a discount on merchandise that is damaged or flawed. A dangling button might not get you much, but a torn seam, stained collar or uneven dye job may be worth something. If you notice a damaged article, offer to buy it if the clerk will give you a deal. Don’t name a price–leave that to their discretion. Many shops have strict parameters for this sort of thing.
Similarly, furniture stores often have great scratch-and-dent rooms. I scored a hefty discount on an ottoman at Ikea, simply because it was a floor model.
Go the “pre-loved” route
Second-hand, vintage, pre-loved, consignment, antique–call it what you will, but stuff that somebody owned before you will come at a discount. And, sometimes (not always), the people selling this merchandise will be willing to strike a deal. Try north Dalhousie Street in the Byward Market for vintage shops and Mechanicsville in the near west end for second-hand stores. I can get lost for hours in the Ottawa Antique Market, which is open seven days a week. If you have a whole morning or afternoon at your disposal, try the Carp Road Flea Market in the rural west end, which is stuffed every Sunday with old Barbies, baseball cards, jewellery, paintings, video games and just about anything else you might find in your grandmother’s attic.
Go the garage route
Several parts of Ottawa hold annual, region-wide garage sales. The Great Glebe Garage Sale in late May draws bargain hunters for miles around, all hoping to score a rich family’s heirlooms. In town this weekend? You can hit the Old Ottawa South Porch Sale on Saturday, Sept. 11 from 9am to 3pm.