Eight-packs of paper towels flew off crate stacks as shoppers filled cart after cart of groceries in the parking lot of a commissary in Virginia Beach.
Even a line backed up 30-deep couldn't squelch shoppers' mood as they wiggled to music while waiting to pay for their overflowing spoils.
Deals this good were worth dancing over.
Often referred to as the Black Friday of grocery shopping, the scene was part of the twice-annual case lot event at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story - a bulk-buying opportunity offered at most commissaries around the world every May and September.
"Imagine if Costco only opened two days every few months outside in a tent," said Autumn Barnes, a Navy wife who lives in Hampton. "That's the atmosphere."
The case lot sales are held under a tent in the parking lot of the commissary. Pantry goods, beverages, cleaning supplies and pet items are sold in bulk, often marked down by a $1 or $2 from the commissary in-store price. In many cases, manufacturer or special commissary coupons are attached to the pallets, offering shoppers an additional savings.
There are no purchase limits.
The Little Creek sale marked the beginning of case lot season for the Hampton Roads military community. Sales at Langley Air Force Base, Fort Eustis, Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Naval Air Station Oceana are planned within the month. Norfolk Naval Station's sale ends today.
"I have been coming to these sales ever since I married my husband 12 years ago," said Emily Pratt, a Virginia Beach native and Navy spouse. She writes for the bargain-hunting blog ihavecouponsforthat.com, chronicling her best grocery deals each week.
"The thing is, these sales really save us military wives from having to buy warehouse club memberships," she added. "We're located in a great area here with a lot of military bases around, and there are enough sales to keep us stocked up."
At the Little Creek sale shoppers were particularly enthusiastic about jars of pasta sauce for 67 cents each, 24-packs of water bottles for $2.50, and, of course, those paper towels. Not a single cart left the lot without at least one eight-pack of paper towels for $3.50 - a price that could be reduced even further by a coupon-savvy shopper.
"There is a lot of pantry-loading going on at the commissary already," said Rick Brink, a public affairs specialist for the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA). "These sales are an opportunity to offer special promotional prices for those shoppers."
Although Brink isn't sure how or where these parking lot sales originated, the agency institutionalized the phenomenon in 2001. Now, DeCA cuts deals with vendors and sends a list of products to stores for order placement before each sale.
"We choose the items from the list that we think will sell well at our stores," said Mark Crump, the store manager at the Little Creek commissary. "These are not items that have been sitting in our warehouse."
Over the years, some shoppers say the deals have become less exciting. And some argue that they can get better prices by shopping at public grocery stores with coupons.
"Case lot sales used to be a great deal because the price was lower than usual," said Gail Asher, of Tabb. "Now most case lot sales are just that: Buy a case instead of individual items. The price is the same. The great salesdisappeared about 10 years ago."
Not every item is a great buy, Pratt agreed.
But for Margie Richardson, a retired Navy spouse in Virginia Beach, the Little Creek sale couldn't have come at a better time.
"In this economy, this is just fantastic for my family," she said, as she swept her hand over a cartful of snacks and cleaning products. "Crystal Light has just continued to increase in price, and here it's $1.69 for this huge container."
Chris Naivez's wife sent him to the sale in her stead. The Navy chief was sent out the door with one vague instruction: "Pick up some good deals."
So, we asked him: Are the deals good?
"I'll know if I got a good deal when I get home and my wife looks at the receipt," he shrugged.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun