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RIP: Buy for Less at NW 23rd and Penn

6:00 AM EDT on September 27, 2016

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It was late last week when I heard the news from the sweet sauce goddess at the B4L-BBQ stand that the Buy for Less at NW 23rd and Penn was shuttering its doors for good.  Is it weird that I might have shed a tear or two?

As many readers of The Lost Ogle are aware, I’m sure, nary a week goes by wherein I or one of my satirical compatriots doesn’t bring up the near-mythological grocery store located in middle of one of the Metro’s least desirable areas. But for all the ribbing, all the Snake Plissken references, all the fears of being accosted during a late-night deli-item clearance run, for many of us it was practically a second home, a family tradition and a close neighborhood friend.

Albeit a friend that might gut us in the parking lot with the neck of a broken King Cobra bottle, but a friend nevertheless.

My own history with the local chain goes back to the first hour I ever spent in Oklahoma City. Moving here from a small redneck Texas town in early 1990, as soon as the U-Haul pulled off I-35 and into the actual Metro itself, before we even got to our new house, my parents pulled into Buy for Less to grab a few items to make it through until the next day, like toilet paper and so on.

Our family never purchased name-brand cereals in the past but, in this special case, my parents allowed my brother and I to pick out our own cereals: I got Batman: The Cereal and he got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cereal. These were cereals that we never even knew existed in our small town. This new direction in life was already starting to look up. As an added bonus, as we were walking back to the U-Haul, a drunk, probably homeless man was screaming profanities at the Fanta machine by the entrance before urinating all over it. Welcome to Oklahoma City!

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Having opened in 1988, I can easily say that Buy for Less has been one of the few constants in my life for almost 30 years. It’s been that way for many OKCity-folk that’ve kept around the 73107. I remember their magazine racks, loaded with magazines you couldn’t get anywhere else outside of Walden’s, mags like Heavy Metal, Cinefantastique and Prevue. I remember my friend Rafael and I loading up on those Twangerz limon and pickle salts and all the Harding Middle School girls flirting and rubbing up on me to get a little pinky dip of that. And I remember all those samples…

But most of all I remember that, because their prices were so low, our parents actually allowed us to make choices. We could pick name-brand items for once in our Goddamned miserable lives! Chips Ahoy, here we come! Fruit Roll-Ups, Hell, why not! And the piece de résistance…no more store-brand cola! You have no idea how much a true-blue Diet Dr. Pepper is cherished after your umpteenth bout with Doc Shasta-induced cholera.

Throughout the years, the Buy for Less at 23rd and Penn has been a focal point for numerous misadventures (remember that crazy hooker story from issue 6 of DAMAGED Magazine?), numerous life-threatening situations and even more numerous romantic escapades, having met at least two of my fondest past paramours in the meat department (pun not intended or inferred) of that very super market.

When I left Oklahoma for the greener mountains of Fort Collins, Colorado, there was an empty, shopping cart-sized hole in my heart that I tried to fill with the King Soopers on N. College Ave., but even with their stellar clearance selection, it still wasn’t the same.

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Since moving back however, after being ten years away, I was amazed how this particular store had managed to spruce itself up (nice murals!) while still retaining the same dated exploitation film atmosphere. With the addition of the muy bonita Hispanic aisle—never did I want for discount novena candles again—to the aforementioned BBQ station, it was like coming home all over again, only this time, momma’s dating a new guy and she really thinks you two will “hit it off.” Sure, he’s a functional alcoholic named Randy but, once you get past the black patent leather fringe jacket, he’s actually kind of a cool dude that makes her happy and that’s all that matters.

It was late last week when I heard the news from the sweet sauce goddess at the B4L-BBQ stand that the Buy for Less at NW 23rd and Penn was shuttering its doors for good. As I shed a tear or two, she told me that the store, even though it was one of their most successful ones, couldn’t afford the high rent and invest in the upgrades the store needed at the same time.

As I looked around and noticed whole shelves and displays gone, creating whole barren areas, it started to hit home. She said they probably stay open to around the first week of October, if that. The BBQ stand might close even sooner.

Knowing this’ll probably be the last time to enjoy some of the best BBQ in OKC, I ordered the $22.50 sampler pack, loaded with a half-pound of brisket, a half-rack of ribs and a handful of hot links. She must’ve sensed it was the end too, because she really went above and beyond, packing that foil with plenty of my beloved burnt fatty brisket ends and even more ribs than I could count.

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My pal Jerry and I sat at his dining room table savoring each and every bite. The brisket was as succulent as ever, the ribs more tender than I remember and the hot links were fire-filled franks that were spiced to perfection. I made it all last for a few days, Charlie Bucket-ing a little bit each day. I can’t believe that BBQ is gone forever.

Since moving back almost five years ago, I have made Buy for Less my once, twice, sometimes thrice a week grocery shopping destination. Being without a car, even when geographically fearful friends begged me to go to the newer, cleaner, brighter outet on Northwest Expressway, I dug my heels deep, usually pulling out a race card of some sort to get my way. I couldn’t betray Penn.

And now, I have no idea where I will go for groceries. Even worse, what about the hundreds of people in that neighborhood who count on that market, with their low-prices and diverse goods, as their home grocery? The people who have to walk there. The people who rely on their other services, like check cashing. The people who refuse to support a national chain like Wal-Mart. This is what a food desert that destroys a community looks like, folks! Welcome to the beginning of the end…

Fare thee well, Buy for Less at NW 23rd and Penn. We hardly knew ye.

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Louis Fowler romanticizes the stupidest things. Follow him on Twitter at @LouisFowler.

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