Several weeks ago I was ranting on Facebook about Black Friday. My friend Josef, also an American living in Joburg (in fact Josef and I grew up in neighboring towns outside Baltimore, Maryland), commented he doesn’t bother with Black Friday because he finds way better deals year-round at Crazy Groceries.

Black Friday is a hot Facebook topic, and my rant elicited dozens of comments. But Josef’s caught my attention.

“Crazy Groceries?” I asked. “What’s that?”

I was in for a treat.

Outside Crazy GroceriesOutside Crazy Groceries, in the blandest of bland Joburg shopping centers off Malibongwe Drive in Strijdom Park.

Crazy Groceries is, of course, a grocery store. But it stands apart from other grocery stores in that: 1) everything sold there is non-perishable; and 2) most of the products are past their “best before” dates.

Best before signs in Crazy GroceriesBest before warnings at Crazy Groceries.

As I understand it, “best before” dates are different from “sell by” dates. None of the products at Crazy Groceries are fresh or perishable, hence they can’t actually rot or make you sick just because the best before date has passed.

(Incidentally, there is a lot of debate about sell by dates and best before dates and whether they mean anything at all, ever. Check out this episode of one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, for more on the subject.)

So some of Crazy Groceries’ groceries are a bit past their prime. So what? We live in a post-ageist society. Old, young, or somewhere in between, the array of Crazy Groceries products is always changing, always new. And best of all, everything is discounted.

Monday Afternoon at Crazy Groceries

Crazy Groceries is slightly tricky to find. Strijdom Park is one of those bland, industrial suburbs on the outskirts of every big city — a busy, four-lane highway flanked by shopping centers three-deep on each side, with street vendors wandering between cars in the traffic selling cokes, hats, remote-control cars, pumice stones, and everything in between.

It took Marie-Lais and me a few minutes to find the tiny Pheonix Centre amidst the Malibongwe Drive melee (luckily Josef told me Crazy Groceries is next to Luv Land — a popular porn shop — and those are always easy to spot), and then a few more minutes to actually manoeuvre through a series of connecting parking lots to reach it.

Marie-Lais and I went to Crazy Groceries because we both wanted to write about it; I hadn’t planned to shop. How naive I was.

Shoppers at Crazy GroceriesA long shelf filled with cleaning products and toiletries in Crazy Groceries.

Christmas-themed toilet paper at Crazy GroceriesA nine-pack of two-ply toilet paper for R44 ($3.50). The same toilet paper at Spar costs R60. I guess it’s a reject because of the Christmas theme, although oddly it is the Christmas season now. And the holiday picture is only on the package, anyway — the toilet roll itself is plain white. I bought one.

The other cool thing about Crazy Groceries is the eclectic international nature of its selection, with lots of imported foods not easily available in normal grocery stores. I spotted cans and jars from the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Thailand, Mexico, and many more.

Mixed pickle from Crazy GroceriesMysterious mixed pickle.

Golden syrup from Crazy GroceriesI have no idea what this is but I like the look of it, and a can costs less than $1.

Apparently Crazy Groceries receives big pallets full of merchandise and they never know exactly what they’ll get. As Josef said, it’s like a lucky packet of groceries.

I like that Crazy Groceries is selling merchandise that would otherwise be thrown away and end up landfills. And I like that it’s a small, family-owned business.

Inside Crazy GroceriesMarlene, behind the counter, is the sister of the owner.

Here’s what I came away with:

What I bought at Crazy GroceriesA nine-pack of toilet paper, two cans of black beans (hard to find in South Africa), a box of Italian pasta, two packs of dried cranberries, a bag of banana chips, 20 off-brand ziplock bags, two toothbrushes, a tube of Colgate, three snack-sized packs of mixed nuts, and a jar of spicy mustard. I spent R204, or about $16.

‘Tis the season when we’re all broke, so there’s no better time for Crazy Groceries. I think they sell school supplies, too. So get out there before everyone comes back from holiday, while the traffic on Malibongwe is less unbearable.

Crazy Groceries is at Shop No. 718 Phoenix Centre, Malibongwe Drive, Strijdom Park. Call +27-11-791-3140.

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