It's the economy, stupid. That's what I mumble when I window shop for lofty-priced bottles of Barolo or caress cashmere sweaters in snazzy stores or address some would-be presidents on the television.

It's the economy, stupid. That's what I mumble when I window shop for lofty-priced bottles of Barolo or caress cashmere sweaters in snazzy stores or address some would-be presidents on the television.

As I write this - and my mumble shifts toward a grumble - it's the unlovely home stretch of the painful, started-a-lifetime-ago campaign season. Interestingly, Halloween is still in the air. Coincidence? I think not. Because the freakiest creepouts I've endured all year long have occurred over the past scary days.

Yes, many of those chills are due to endless political bickering and, relatedly, our economy. You know, that smelly horror swirling down the proverbial porcelain pot.

These kinds of thoughts haunted me as I was doling out handfuls of candy I had bought for the aptly titled "Beggar's Night." What also came to mind was that what's good for the kiddies could also be good for adults. So while trick-or-treat might be a one-night spree for costumed shorties, I've devised a strategy whereby normally attired grownups can periodically score no-cost treats by going door to door also: a free-sample tour of upscale grocery stores.

Whether it's to seduce consumers to unconsciously continue spending or to cheer up cart wheelers when they drop more dollars than they ought to, the grocery handout should be taken advantage of. Through experience, I've observed that bigger chains tend to push low-rent stuff while fancier joints up the ante considerably.

What follows is a nosh-by-nosh account of some worthy snacking scavenger hunts. But first, a few caveats for would-be imitators. 1) Don't come off as a jowl-stuffed hog - only request extra samples if you can flawlessly feign interest. 2) No elbows. 3) If you do seek out every single gratis nibble, at least buy one thing on your way out (like antacid).

Fresh Market

1920 Henderson Rd., Upper Arlington

614-326-1370

Saturday, 1:25 pm

My gravy train got on track quickly, as a sidewalk-situated grilltender handed out hefty hunks of grass-fed filet mignon. Inside, with Beethoven playing, the deli counter also proved profitable, proffering big wheels of two kinds of sushi (BBQ eel and California roll) - it was serve yourself, so I most certainly did.

The bakery brought it all home, offering steep slices of a rich chocolate cheesecake and a cinnamon-scented cherry cheesecake. I enjoyed my desserts with a couple mini cups of (otherwise costly) Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee. (Note: this weekend is Fresh Market's free lavish Thanksgiving dinner preview bonanza.)

Whole Foods Market

3670 W. Dublin-Granville Rd., Dublin

614-760-5556

Web: wholefoodsmarket.com

Monday, 7:08 p.m.

This place gets jiggy with it from 6 to 8 p.m. every Monday. That's when DJ Moxie sets the rhythm for themed eating strolls (like "Nutritional Noir" - dark, antioxidant-filled foods) for money-saving grazers. And there were lots of grazers here. And lots of food. And inexpensive beer and wines available.

The lengthy list of tidbits (I counted 10 stations) included: jambalaya made with red rice and Niman Ranch pork, about half a turkey burger with a zesty tzatziki, brownies topped with dark chocolate and a red wine and berry sauce, and a super-moist bananas foster cake with a wonderful rum and caramel sauce.

Weiland's Gourmet Market

3600 Indianola Ave., Clintonville

614-267-9878

Web: weilandsgourmetmarket.com

Saturday, 12:10 p.m.

I munched on a world of goodies from this neighborhood specialty store. My Colombian coffee went swimmingly with Weiland's own Victorian milk bread slathered with terrific apple butter made only out of apples and cider (from Cooper's Mill of Bucyrus).

Next I threw down some fine sharp white cheddar cubes from Australia and another interesting cheese called Beemster Graskaas - they went great with Weiland's wine tasting (50 small cents per glass). I finished up with the store's refreshing, almost fruity-tasting tuna salad (with hard-boiled egg and celery) washed down with a cup of Red Rooibos tea from South Africa.