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The Back to School Hunt

Three essential Stratford stops to make before school begins.

Stratford parents and students should know the date well by now -- on Sept. 6, school is back in session in Stratford. And for some of those off at college, it’s already begun.

Are you prepared?

This week’s hunt will take us around Stratford to three big businesses well suited to have your family ready to go for the new academic season. From college to kindergarten, you don’t have to leave Stratford to find what you need.

Whether you are a teacher or student, tradition mandates that you’ll need some fresh new clothes to start the season. And Burlington Coat Factory has it all -- which surprised me because I thought they only sold coats.

Immediately upon entering, I was thwarted by the impressive shoe selection offered. While I was prepared to head into Payless in search of a new pair of trendy sneakers, I found everything I needed right inside of this gigantic store. Brands like Nike, Fila, Sketchers, Reebok and tattoo legend Ed Hardy were all offered, in addition to Polo and Levi’s. Athletic shoes start at just $19.99 and are marked down at up to 60 percent off, making this the ultimate shoe stop in town. Just look for the red sticker on the box.

This place is a great resource worth exploiting due to their almost unsettling selection of amenities.

“They have a better variety and a lot more to choose from -- and nobody harasses you except for reporters,” said Alicia Metula, who was shopping with her seventh grader.

And she’s right. Where else can you find a Shape and Spin Elmo for your toddler right across from a new suit you can wear to work?

I had to walk past the Iron Man 2 hand-held game, and the Tonka trucks so I could make my way to the lunchboxes. I found a selection of insulated Yankees and Jets merchandise ready to insulate a sandwich and juice box. And for the dorm or off-campus apartment, there is a great selection of bedding, frying pans, tables and chairs -- anything you could need to turn your 13-square-foot cell into an inhabitable living space.

After Burlington, I was in search of a laptop. Chances are if your kid is headed to college, they will need a new computer and Staples has a great selection of everything that is not Apple -- with the exception of chargers and jackets for your iPhone.

Staples offers laptop brands such as Samsung, Toshiba, Acer, Dell and HP, in addition to desktops like the trusted Gateway. And while they might not come with all of the bells and whistles that a Mac might offer, they do serve as smart alternatives.

The big seller for this season is the HP Pavilion dm4-207 laptop, according to Staples employee John Caramanica, who noted the price as a big selling factor.

“If you have a valid student or teacher ID you can get a $100 VISA gift card in the mail,” Caramanica said.

He said another top seller is the Dell Inspiron 14R laptop, which although popular does not come with the discount.

Caramanica noted the size of the laptops as a big selling factor over the Macs.

“They are smaller,” he said. “People around college campuses probably don’t want to carry around a heavy laptop.”

And with terrors such as flying beer and rampant thievery, these low-priced computers might be the perfect solution this fall for your son or daughter as they head off to school.

Also, if you are suffering from a lack of power and can’t print, Staples has a copy and print center in the store for your use.

Big Y

After all of the hard work, it was time to think about my favorite time of the day -- lunch time.

I arrived at Big Y with the intention of proving that it makes more sense, economically and physically, to send your youngster to school with a lunch that you hand prepared.

An aisle you should take note of is aisle 7 -- because before you do anything, you’ll need a lunchbox and a hard container so that your kid’s sandwich won’t get smashed. And while the aforementioned Yankees and Jets lunchboxes are available at the Burlington Coat Factory, I imagine there are plenty of Mets, Red Sox and Giants fans in Stratford and they can get their team's lunchbox at Big Y.

Or, perhaps your child might take to more of a blue-collared look, preferring a less flashy lunch bag over images of Spiderman or Batman. It’s a good thing Big Y sells Thermos brand. Also, right next to the lunch bags, a whole row of Snack Packs are conveniently located to ensure a tasty treat comes with lunch.

With the lunch bag secured, I headed to the deli aisle to browse the wide array of sandwich materials available. What I ran into was the Cheese Explorer.

I loved this book. Conveniently located on its own stand in front of the cheese section, the Explorer highlights worldly cheeses from Argentina to Holland. It got me to thinking of all of the unfortunate souls whose parents will not heed my advice and will open their lunches only to find slices of the sturdy, but drab American cheese. Explore, I say! Open the book! Give your child’s pallet the gift of a fresh mountain breeze rushing through the French Alps!

Then, turn right to look at the heady row of fresh bread to complete the sandwich, and take pride in the fact that you know exactly what goes into your child’s stomach when the lunch bell rings (trading aside). It’s healthy, more affordable in the long run, fun and creative.

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