7 Jul

I do almost all of my shopping at the Bi-Lo up the street. I could probably save money by driving another five miles to the Wal-Mart, but I rarely come home from Bi-Lo with a trunk full of cheap home furnishings, kitchen swag, craft supplies and health and beauty products, either. It’s better for my bank account (not to mention storage space) in the long run to spend a little more for lettuce, milk and meat, believe me. Now, when you spend enough time shopping at a single location, you learn to ferret out the best stuff: good regional produce and meats, deals on cage free eggs and southern-style frozen vegetables. The Bi-Lo is a pretty decent little store if you skip the sugary-weird bakery fare and the fruit-flavored sodas on the end of every aisle.

The store has competition, though. There’s a Food Lion across the street and the aforementioned Wal-Mart just a couple miles down the highway. If you drive three miles north, you hit a long commercial strip with grocery and warehouse stores, fast food, cheap food, small businesses and medical clinics where the only trees are hospital implants. It’s some majorly bleak scenery, my friends, and it depresses me just to drive through it, but that doesn’t mean other people avoid it. Nearly every store and shop in the surrounding area, by their very existence, steals business away from the Bi-Lo, who almost threw in the towel a couple years back. Because it felt more cozy than any other stores I knew in the area, I started shopping there almost exclusively to do my part in keeping their doors open. They’re still operating and seem to be doing well on the surface, as far as I can tell, but there’ve been a few… changes. To help them increase their daily take, I imagine. We all do what we have to to survive, right? But damn:

When you walk into the store, you’ve entered a treacherous junk-food gauntlet. Long bakery tables covered with cakes and a wall of Coke products flank a row of sale bins filled to bursting with sugared drinks, canned soups, instant noodles and packets of just-add-water meals. You literally cannot walk into the store without submitting to one of these two kill chutes unless you slip past a cashier–past a rack of candies, cookies, jerky, magazines, toys, and ice-cold sodas and energy drinks in coolers–or go allll the way around the other side of the registers. But wait, no, you can’t do that either. Where there used to be bags of charcoal and odd household items is now row upon row of neon foam pool noodles, cheap plastic tableware in bright summer colors, hundreds of pounds of unusual novelty and classic candies, games, swimming gear, pillows for your butt; there are shelves laden with water bottles, cheesy pseudo-religious decorative items, table settings, lanterns, puzzles, folding lawn chairs, even a rack of clothes and flip-flops. At the center of this orgy of “OMG PLEASE BUY ME” sits, no fuckin’ lie, a tank. Not a fish tank, but a real honest-to-gawd military-style tank fashioned entirely from Miller Lite boxes and decorative kegs, complete with turret. It’s huge, it’s gaudy, it’s… it’s so fucking apt.

It’s like they’ve declared war on me, the simple shopper with my dozen eggs and plain yogurt and bag of Georgia peaches. “Do not go into that cold night,” they scream, “with just a pint of ice cream and four tomatoes and five pounds of carrots! YOU NEED THIS PLASTIC BAT AND WHIFFLE BALL AND A MOSAIC NAPKIN HOLDER WITH A MIRROR CROSS GLUED ONTO IT.” My son reads this message loud and clear, the little turncoat tugging at my shirt. “Can I get that baseball toy, mom? PLEASE??” He needs it. His little palms are sweaty with desire for seventeen cents’ worth of yellow and white plastic marked up to $4.99.

At least he doesn’t throw a tantrum when I say no, like he used to when the toys first started to appear at Bi-Lo’s critical entry and exit points.

I can’t say I like the heavy-handed preying on the impulsiveness of human nature, but I understand it. And you know what? It’s not a new thing. You can’t go into (or out of) any grocery store, anywhere, without seeing the same sort of trap. Even the Fresh Market across town with its highfalutin image tries to tempt you with pretty cut and potted flowers, rows of fancy chocolate, salty snacks and quirky/organic beverages by every cash register. It’s why I won’t change where I shop just to avoid the tactic. What would be the point?

I fall for it every once in a while, though. Yesterday I saw a stack of red boxes among the riot of consumer-bait and thought “Holy shit, I bet Ethan would love this game.” After an hour of cutthroat UNO play, the little dude was hooked. He played a critical skip card and cost his dad a win, taking the title of UNO Champion. He even trash-talked us, then declared it his new favorite game ever. “Even more than video games?” I asked him. “Yep,” he said, and gave me a smug winner’s smirk.

And that’s the story of how Bi-Lo’s consumer-trap facilitated my asskicking at the hands of a nine-year-old.


One Response to “Impulse”

  1. Mom July 7, 2011 at 9:00 pm #


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