Bargain Town USA

This homegrown discounter once had a smiling mascot named "Buckworth."  Below is from a 1971 advertisement, listing all the cities where Bargain Town then had stores.  The chain extended from Columbia, Tenn., all the way down to Troy.

Bargain Town was formed in 1957 by Max Corenblum and Morris Barstein, who started out operating War Surplus Stores (the one downtown on 1810 4th Avenue North is pictured).  Later Morris' son, Mervyn Barstein joined the company.   Bargain Town USA was a big player in north and central Alabama discount retailing; more or less the "Dollar General" of its day.  Mr. Barstein sold Bargain Town USA to Montgomery-based Kinder Care (the daycare chain) in 1987.  They became part of Enstar, the parent chain of Simply 6 and Shoe City.  After Enstar collapsed in 1991, sons Rodney and Mark Barstein bought Simply 6 (but not Bargain Town -- the brothers felt that a store devoted exclusively to clothing would be easier to operate, as opposed to BT's variety format).  Presently, while Bargain Town exists as a smaller discount chain, the spirit of Buckworth lives on as Simply 6 -- now renamed Simply Fashions.  (thanks to Mr. Rodney Barstein for providing both this picture and historical info)

MORE PICTURES....(special thanks to Rodney Barstein for providing these from his archives)
Bargain Town USA #7 in North Birmingham, March 1960. 
The early stores were showplaces of giant mural-like signage! 
Of note is one of the earliest incarnations of the yet-to-be-named Buckworth .... 
here he looks a bit mischevious (but not as evil as one we'll see in a minute!)
[my wife says this one looks like the picture on the cheap toy where you used a magnetic pen to arrange tiny metal pellets to make beards, disguises, etc.]
 Another early location ... I'm not sure where this is, but I suspect it's somewhere in downtown Birmingham.  It has the diagonal stripe motif seen on the North B'ham store above, but the Not-Buckworth-Yet painted on this sign looks far more excited (amazing what the eyebrows'll do!).  This is closest to how the little man would be pictured later in the '60s, when a consistent "look" emerged.
1967: Bargain Town USA celebrates ten years ..... and had a number of these "good luck" pennies made.  I'm sure there was some sort of promotion involved here -- perhaps it was like the old Rexall Drug "1-cent sales", where you could buy a second of a given item for a penny more. (and when's the last time you saw a shiny 1967 penny?? -- numismatics, please note: this is just a picture ... I don't have an actual specimen! )
From the earliest head-and-pointing-finger incarnations -- with its many subtle differences among the different sign painters -- to the full-body "elf" style beginning in the late 1960s -- to the Bicentennial-era "Uncle Sam" look, where Bucky sports a full head of blond hair.  Buckworth would retain this form in most advertising until he was retired in the early 1980s.

The county seat of Walker County (native stomping grounds of my mother's family) got their own BT store, and the line stretched outside the store this hot Summer day in 1963. 

It seems that Bargain Town enlisted different sign painters for many of the early stores, hence the different interpretations of the Face With No Name.  Here he looks downright mean!  "If you like bargains, you'll love Bargain Town  ... OR ELSE!!!"

ALBERTVILLE ... Early '60s

One of The City's Finest directs traffic around this crowd of people waiting to partake of bargains at their new BT store. 

The Man Yet To Be Named Buckworth greets Marshall Countians with a giddy face.  Whomever painted this one evidently was influenced by Don Martin, who used to be a cartoonist for Mad magazine. 

Inside a Bargain Town store, circa mid to late 1960s.
LEEDS ... 1965

Like Albertville above, this rendition of our smilin' hero is straight from the 'Mouth' period.  Stenciled on the wastebasket out front is "KEEP LEEDS CLEAN."
  The exterior was painted by Hodges Signs, and dated June 1, 1965. 

ALABASTER -- July 1966

A happy family emerges with bargains in hand.

On the door is a promotion for a WYDE radio remote at this Bargain Town store: 


The painters didn't let the limitations of a landlocked downtown storefront stop 'em. 

Going from the gold-on-navy color scheme on the car tags, this would have to be from the 1966 to 1967 period. 

Opelika, April 1968

By now, when this BT store opened in the Lee County city of Opelika, the Corenblums and Barsteins had moved to a more standardized signage -- and here we see our smiling mascot now donning a full body. 

AWN-EE-AWN-TAH, September 1968

Probably one of the last of the painted facades; most stores opened in the 1970s had the attached signage as pictured on the Opelika store above. 

It sports the full-body Buck', and the banner sports the template that would be used for future stores.



Bargain Town USA held a contest for what was then termed "the Bargain Town man" -- name him, and win a $4,000 college scholarship.  The winning entry was submitted by Bessemer resident Mrs. Don Wallace
At right is a news clipping where daughter Kimberly is presented with her scholarship check. 

Goodbye Miller ... Hello Buckworth!

A sign crew is shown putting up backlit BARGAIN TOWN USA signs below the main Westgate Shopping Center sign.  Bargain Town opened a store here in 1975, replacing the dying Miller's Discount Store chain. 

If you like Easter, you'll love Bargain Town ... hop-hop-hop!

I don't have to tell you that this ad circular dates back to some time in the mid 1970s.  I mean, just look at that boy's suit ... good gravy!  This is from a time when I was close to the age of the kids illustrated here.  Talk about a bad flashback; why did '70s fashion designers drink that Kool-Aid, anyhow??!!

Oh, and Bargain Town had 33 locations by this time ... they were now as far south as Greenville, Elba and Eufaula! (The Eufaula store is still in business -- and the Troy location now houses a gym)

Decatur, Ala., 1977: 
"Your Money's Worth Or Your Money Back"

Plenty of smiling cashiers stand ready to take your dinero for the bargains overflowing your shopping cart. 

So ... didja get a star?

BARGAIN TOWN shoppers in the '70s made it a habit to check their register tape to see if a star appeared; if it did, they got $1.00 worth of merchandise!  (and you also got this bonus if the cashier was derelict in his or her duty and failed to give you a receipt) 

Balloons, Bugs and Buckworth...

1981 grand opening for yet another BT store (location unknown).  Wascally Wabbit is on the balloons.

Uh oh, is that Buckworth who shaved his head bald and has traded his Uncle Sam garb for a hunting coat ... and gun? 

....if you wike bargains you'll wuve Bargain Town, Huh-uhuhuhuhuhuh!!

Buckworth's Last Stand!

Mr. Mervyn Barstein is pictured with a life-sized Buckworth in honor of Bargain Town's 25th anniversary in 1982. 

Buckworth would ride into the sunset soon after this milestone. 

One cannot pay any sort of homage to BARGAIN TOWN USA without a nod to one of Alabama's most famous advertising jingles:

One of many jingles produced over the years at Boutwell Studios in Birmingham.
[special thanks to Merrill Thompson of Montgomery, Ala., who happened to catch this commercial while recording some of WBAM "The Big Bam" in 1971.  This is sparkling quality, considering the age of the source tape and that it was recorded from an AM broadcast!]

For family clothing
Biggest values abound,
At the discount store
called Bargain Town.

They buy for less
So they can sell for less,
The money you save
Will bring you happiness.

That's why people all over town say,
"If you like bargains, you'll love Bargain Town
....U! S! A!"


UPDATED 04/17/2007 -- 737 PM EDT
03/14/2005 -- 642 PM EST