NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Some say a new Norfolk business is so addictive, and the bargains are so good, it has them getting up before the crack of dawn just to be one of the first people inside.
They’ll get there at 4:45, 3 or even as early as 1:30 a.m., and the place doesn’t even open until 10.
“My sister comes at 5 o’clock in the morning to get a ticket, so they give out tickets at 6. She comes at 5, so we were one of the first ones into the store,” said Gary Sutton, a Yorktown resident whose sister lives in Virginia Beach.
That ticket is key if you want first dibs on whatever’s inside that day, everything from tools and electronics to toys and furniture. Because by the time the 30,000-square-foot store officially opens for the day, there’s usually more than a hundred people lined up and champing at the bit.
The store is called Treasure Hunt Liquidators, located off E. Virginia Beach Blvd. in a shopping center near the old Military Circle Mall. It’s the first Hampton Roads location and third overall for the regional chain. The first opened in February 2021 in Raleigh and a fourth store around 40,000 square feet is in the works for Concord, North Carolina.
Since the Norfolk location opened back in January, many people said they’ll go multiple days a week hunting for big deals, after learning about Treasure Hunt through Facebook, word-of-mouth, or TikTok, where the store has a dedicated social media presence.
It’s culminated into a “bad addiction” for some. Several people admitted Friday that they were playing hooky from work, one person for two Fridays in a row. That’s the day owners say a ticketing system is necessary to keep crowds under control.
The place is completely restocked Friday after being closed the day before, and customers have the best chance of scoring higher-end products. The price for each item in the bins on Fridays: $10.
And there’s no limit on how much you can buy.
“This is an all day thing … just keep going,” said owner Ozzy Ishmael.
Here’s how it works
When customers return items purchased from Amazon, JCPenney, etc., most of those products are resold by the truckload to liquidator companies such as Treasure Hunt.
“We have one of the biggest contracts in the nation when it comes to Amazon’s returns,” per Ishmael. He says about 80% of the store’s products come from the mega retailer.
The catch is that Treasure Hunt doesn’t know what’s inside those trucks. Sometimes they get a whole load of hand sanitizer.
But they’ll risk paying around $15,000 per truck, knowing most of the time there will be items people want.
“We get these truckloads weekly, we drop about a 30,000 pieces a week into these bins,” Ishmael said, pointing to the large bins of products that occupy about half the store’s floor.
Bin stores aren’t an entirely new phenomenon, having popped nationwide and in other locations in Hampton Roads, but Ishmael says he believes Treasure Hunt’s popularity comes from offering higher quality products. For example, the price point on Friday for each item starts at $10, compared to competitors that can cap out at lower dollar amounts.
“You find a lot of branded stuff worth hundreds of dollars in these bins and you can get ’em for $10 on a Friday. “… from top-end brands such as Uggs, Nautica, Lacoste … Apple products and stuff like that.”
The prices for each item in the bins go down each day of the week, to just $1 on Wednesday. Ishmael says they’ll hold less expensive products for those days, but there’s not much of a drop off when it comes to lines. There can still be as many as a hundred people lined up on Wednesdays for $1 day.
And no matter what day you go, the bins are constantly being restocked — unlike a barbeque joint that closes up once the pig gets picked. Though come Thursday, the store closes to the public and the bins are completely emptied to prepare for the big reopening each Friday.
“We’ve got more appliances, more tools to put in, more clothes, homegoods, all the good stuff. It’s all about the premium goods. It does cost … that’s why we have a section that’s called the Treasure Chest, and with that it helps us to put up more on the tables and save on costs on the back end,” said Ishmael, who employs about 15 employees at the Norfolk location.
Those Treasure Chest items are tucked away behind a special counter, and range from Apple watches and Legos to laptops and tablets.
Prices for those items are negotiable, and the store will also price match if you find a lower price elsewhere. Ace Sbaiss, who manages the Norfolk store, also pointed out of the tiny treasure boxes hidden away inside the bins. If customers find one of the mini chests, they can get a Treasure Chest item for as low as $10, or get a major markdown on furniture/appliances.
A fuzzy magenta couch on display for example was marked down to $2,300 already from an estimated retail cost of $5,750. With the treasure chest add-on, it would only be $130.
There’s also the “Mystery Box,” perched atop the Treasure Chest. There’s no description other than a whopping price point: $500.
Chesapeake resident Tony Stacy had no idea what would be inside, but he was feeling lucky and took the plunge. He and his son Zach were second in line Friday morning after getting there at 1:30 a.m. for a ticket.
“This is the casino today,” Stacy joked.
A smiling Stacy would later pull out cameras, wireless routers, headphones, an electric toothbrush, a boombox, a video projector and more from the box. “Oh this thing’s loaded, Zach,” Stacy added.
There were at least 15 items total, worth well over the $500 price tag, Stacy said.
“We should try that again, Zach.”
What else were people buying
WAVY caught up in line with youngster Sameir Dhalai, a Buffalo resident who stopped by Treasure Hunt with his family while visiting the area.
“I want something I can play with, I can watch with and I can cook with,” said Dhalai, who listed eggs and meat (specifically steak) as his go-to dishes.
And he cleaned up inside. WAVY later spotted Dhalei in the parking lot with a TV and several other items in tow.
Gary Sutton, the Yorktown resident whose sister got there at 5 a.m. for a ticket, ended up with 12 items in total, from weighted blankets to a basketball hoop for his grandson. He plans to give them all away as gifts.
Virginia Beach resident Mike McNeal heard about Treasure Hunt from a coworker and said he only really came out for a coffee maker.
“And ended up with about 13 or 14 items … there was a lot of good bargains in there, so it was definitely worth it.”
Tammie Stern learned about Treasure Hunt through a friend, and left before 5 a.m. on February 17 all the way from Mappsville on the Eastern Shore to get a spot in line. She went in looking for a blower and ended up spending $100.
Jacob Hopson, pastor of The Vineyard Church in Hampton and founder of the nonprofit grocery store The Storehouse, was getting items to help his church community and other people in the neighborhood. He had a full cart, with everything from bug zappers and tools to his biggest find: a pet salon kit.
Overall, about half of those who spoke with WAVY said they go on to resell the products they buy at a profit. But whether they go for business or pleasure, Treasure Hunt Liquidators is proving to be a thrill for treasure hunters of all ages.
The store at 5759 E Virginia Beach Blvd. is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s closed on Thursday to be fully restocked. You can read more about them on their website.