By Jill Keppeler
Niagara Gazette — AMHERST — You can't say Kim Rajewski wasn't prepared.
The North Tonawanda woman arrived ready to run Thursday, in brand-new sneakers, jogging shorts and a T-shirt for her prize-winning shopping spree at Tops Friendly Markets on Niagara Falls Boulevard, having scouted out the store — where she also routinely shops — for the best items.
It was a tactic that paid off.
Rajewski was the winner of the three-minute shopping spree as part of a sweepstakes to celebrate the recent renovation of three local Tops stores, including the Niagara Falls Boulevard store and the Young and Niagara street stores in Tonawanda, said Daphne Inman, Tops communications coordinator. From Dec. 1 to 15, customers who used their Bonus cards at the locations were automatically entered to win the spree or other prizes including an autographed Jim Kelly football and four Buffalo Bills tickets.
Rajewski said she found out about the prize just before Christmas, in a very surprising telephone call at work.
"I just couldn't believe it," she said. "I couldn't work the rest of the day. I told everyone around me. It was hard to believe."
Rajewski and friend Dave Bartlett readied for the spree while Andrew Brocato, Tops director of community relations, ran down the rules -- only one person pushes the cart while one puts items in it; no alcohol, tobacco, prescription medication, gift cards, money orders or lottery tickets; and no more than three of the same type of item.
Then Tops employees counted down to the start, and Rajewski and Bartlett took off at a run, quickly coming to a halt at the cheese counter, where a huge wheel of Jarlsberg Swiss cheese (a whopping $177.70) and two big blocks of cheddar wound up in the cart. From there, it was on on to the meat department for ham, chicken, beef roasts and shrimp, and then three huge bags of dog food (for her 9-month-old black lab, Pepsi) and laundry detergent. Soon after, she returned to the starting point for another cart, heading back for cleaning supplies, a big can of olive oil and everything from a box of gourmet brownie mix to garbage bags before the 180 seconds were up.
Rajewski said that they'd been in at least twice just to map their route.
"We came in, looked at stuff we wanted to get and used the most," she said. "We went for the stuff we needed — cheese, meat, dog food — and then we just grabbed what we could. I think that we did pretty well."
"I wasn't as nervous, because it was free," said Bartlett, whose personal goal for the spree was $1,200 worth of groceries. "We had nothing to lose."
When the items was rung up on a cash register, Rajewski and Bartlett's final total was $1,204.78, an amount Brocato said falls somewhere in the middle in the shopping sprees he's seen.
"We've gone from $400-$600 on the low end to over $4,000," he said. "But that was a five-minute shopping spree."
Every shopping spree he's witnessed has showcased different priorities and a different plan, Brocato said. One woman catered her sister's wedding from her spree.
"You just never know," he said. "They're always fun."
After their shopping excursion, Rajewski and Bartlett were honored with a small reception including cake, sparkling juice and other items at the front of the store. While they both accepted a slice of cake, there was one snack tray that went conspicuously untouched.
"We're not having any cheese," Bartlett said. "We have enough of that."