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Discount for a Dented Can of Corn

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— Gregor Schuster/Corbis

With the economy down and consumers looking for ways to trim their budgets, business is booming at the hundreds of “scratch and dent” stores scattered around the country.

Such stores sell groceries at huge discounts off what the same items would cost in your local supermarket, often 50 percent or more.

That’s because the stores buy up truckloads of nonperishable food, cleaning supplies, paper goods, pet food and other items that have been returned by supermarkets.

The reasons for returns: Packages have been scratched or dented or otherwise damaged, the items are near or beyond their “sell-by” dates, they have been overstocked or discontinued, they are no longer seasonal (think Halloween in November), or they just didn’t sell well.

You never know what you’re going to find in one of these places, so you’ll need a flexible shopping list. One week there will be shelves of canned corn and detergent, the next week no corn but plenty of orange juice and artichoke hearts. Salvage stores are plentiful in some states, scarce in others. Go to Anderson’s Country Market for a state-by-state list maintained by one store as a public service.

Joan Rattner Heilman writes on good deals and where to find them.

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