NYC's Five Best Bargain-Basement Chain Stores

Shopping is even more fun when it's dirt-cheap, and when you're sure no one you know will be there to catch you hunting for bargains.

Here are the five best department chains that appeal to my budgetary needs and kitsch taste.

5--Duane Reade. Last year, the 24-hour one near my house spruced up their look and tried to come off like a semi-upscale cosmetics place. That was bad economic timing--and besides, they're never going to be Sephora--so some Duane Reades have started pushing sandwiches and other food up front, more than any beautifying merch. And they're all the unofficial home of Snuggies, which no one gets tired of. Plus magazines, prescriptions, and Skittles. But the down side of Duane Reade is that the points you collect on your value card don't roll over to the next year! I should know!

4--CVS. This place doesn't have much of an identity, but it seems filled with chintzy possibility and I do happen to wander in on occasion and buy milk (and Vitamin E oil, which is almost half the price of all the other stores'!)

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3--Target. There's a Target way uptown and one in Brooklyn, but the locations aren't as forbidding to me as the homophobic cause they were caught giving money to last year. Beyond that, there's tons of quirky stuff here, some of it very unique (I once got a peacock garden ornament there and simply stuck it in the dirt of my apartment). Plus they give coool designers an outlet for accessible items--and they did that before H&M thought of it. The prices don't always seem cheap enough, though. I always want them lower!

2--Walgreens. It's low-rent but likable, though the Astor Place branch has transformed itself into basically a grocery store (a la Duane Reade) with other stuff thrown in. Go downstairs for your beauty needs and also the amazing photo station where you can order mugs, T shirts, plates, and so on with your picture on them. Go ahead, eat off your own face! And the Murray Hill branch has lovely tubettes of candy for a buck. Walgreens is the new Woolworth's, but even cheaper. Love it!

1--K Mart. The down side: There's never anyone working there to help you, and when you do find someone, they're completely clueless as if hit on the head. On the way out, they check your receipt and don't even care if it matches the merch you got, as long it's a receipt. But the good thing is that both branches have TONS of shit that I love, from Martha Stewart and Jaclyn Smith items to holiday-related ornamental junk that moves and talks. And Customer Service lets you return practically anything for any reason! (Not that I ever would. I happen to adore this place.)

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