Out of the Blue

Shopper’s Remorse, Kinda

To browse or not to browse, that is the question

By Deborah Salomon

If shopping were an Olympic sport, I’d win the gold medal. I can happily while away an hour just looking at stuff, be it books or blouses, now called “tops.” Yet when the news that Target might be coming to Southern Pines roared through town I couldn’t muster much excitement.

Maybe the thrill is gone. Maybe Target drowns in too much stuff.

The thrill, in my case, has less to do with buying than with the experience characteristic of the shop-till-you-drop USA. My brief forays abroad indicate that in most cultures, people shop to satisfy a need — like socks or wine or paper towels. They look around, find something acceptable, pay and leave.

I shop as a pastime, a learning experience. I look at colors. I read labels that reveal where the merchandise was made and what it is made of. I ponder prices. In small stores I ask questions.

This doesn’t make me popular with proprietors answering my questions, always pleasantly, while sensing I have no intention of buying those stunning handcrafted silver earrings, for $65.

I enjoy shopping the big boxes, too. A bundle of dresses is still smashed from the box where it was packed by hands on the other side of the globe, then shipped across many oceans in boxcar-sized containers. That makes me remember when Walmart et al. began adding groceries to smashed dresses. At first, the sight of cauliflower and ground beef sharing a cart with jeans, house paint and mittens seemed odd.

It still does, really. Convenience hath its price.

I’m not an organized shopper. I rarely make a list. That way, I can wander, hoping that seeing Tide on sale will remind me.

Wandering is a luxury afforded by age. I retain mixed memories of weaving in and out of the aisles with a toddler in the shopping cart seat and two others, only slightly older, dashing ahead, begging, “Can we buy this, Mommy? Please, please . . . ”

Stop to read a label and they’re climbing the shelves in pursuit of some repulsive purple cereal.

I remember, too, the times my elderly father visited. Supermarket trips were a thrill because he appreciated food, having grown up poor and often hungry. He would feign outrage at the prices, which never kept him from eating what I bought. But as we approached the check-out, he’d disappear.

“I’ll meet you at the car.”

Seeing the total was just too painful. And that was when grapefruit were four for a dollar and sirloin, $1.25 a pound.

I never minded shopping for clothes but despised try-on rooms with their three-way mirrors; an unexpected full rear view can ruin the experience. Therefore, half my untried-on purchases went back.

I thought about that last winter, when the virus closed dressing rooms and returned purchases were, I guess, restocked. Not a pleasant thought.

Shopping for a new car . . . another story. Takes me about 15 minutes to find one I like, another 10 to do the math. The salesperson always looks disappointed at not having to cajole, convince, bargain, use all those snappy phrases learned at training sessions. So, if I can decide in 25 minutes, why does the paperwork take 45?

Still, I’m suspicious of shop-at-home dealerships advertised on TV.

Shopping online guarantees pleasures and perils. You can’t feel the fabric (is it scratchy?) or see the color (duller than expected). Return postage is exorbitant (except for Amazon, with drop-offs at Kohl’s), so I usually end up keeping the borderline-satisfactory purchase.

That’s why, with all due respect, I don’t really care if Target comes to town. I’ve shopped their Greensboro store. Nice housewares, OK selection of packaged groceries, good pet supplies, not much fresh stuff. I couldn’t relate to the clothes.

Sorry if I sound negative. Not my intention. I grew up in the fab Manhattan department store era: B. Altman, Lord &Taylor, Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Best & Company, now just names engraved on tombstones. They had lovely cafés for lunch, free delivery, nice rest rooms. Perfume counters sprayed samples, and elevator operators wore white gloves.

Years later their arty shopping bags were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.

Now that was shopping, neither convenient nor quick. Not even price-conscious, although shoppers probably bought less.

I thought about those department stores and primordial supermarkets (A&P, Piggly Wiggly, Gristedes) during a recent safari through the enormous Harris Teeter in Taylortown, where I spent 15 minutes finding shoe polish — same time it took to select my last car.

No, retail therapy isn’t what it used to be. “The customer is always right” maxim has been maxed out. But if a new Target the size of two football fields stocked from A (apples) to Z (zippers) pushes your buttons, go for it.

Me? I’ll hold out for the $65 earrings. Gift-wrapped and carried home in a frameable shopping bag, please.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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