I should have sold bumper stickers in the mall parking lot that said, “I survived the Kmart sale of 1996.” I would have made a mint because everyone and his brother walked through the store’s doors during the weeks following its going-out-of-business announcement.
For those of you who missed the news because you were vacationing in Tahiti and therefore have no need for bargain items, Kmart at the Mall at Barnes Crossing decided to close its doors after five years of service in Tupelo. However, they weren’t in any big hurry. In fact, for several weeks, store officials teased consumers with weekly 10 percent drops in prices on all their merchandise.
Now I’m no bargain hunter. Though I love coming across great savings on items I need, it’s usually by accident rather than any comparison shopping on my part. Perhaps it’s because I’m just not big on planning ahead. My philosophy is pretty simple. If I’m out of life staples – milk, butter, sugar and eggs – that’s usually a strong indication it’s time to hit the grocery aisles. The store I choose is usually the one across the street from wherever I happen to be filling up my tank, or sometimes it’s because one may give away free cookies at the deli, or if I hit it right, some nice lady in a black apron will be frying up samples of Jimmy Dean sausage near the meat department.
So, you see, I really couldn’t relate, as many of my friends did, to what the Kmart sale actually meant because to me it meant fighting Christmas-sized crowds, standing in long, slow-moving lines, fighting with some irrational woman over the last action hero figurine and wondering the whole time, “Is this really worth it?”
As the weeks passed and 10 percent savings increased to 50 and 60 percent, I began feeling intense pressure, as if I were missing out on the biggest event of my life. The problem was I had already accused one friend of being too caught up in the Kmart frenzy. Then she opened a closet to reveal a great accumulation of toys and games, things she could give for Christmas as well as for birthday gifts. The total price was almost too much to bear. Well, I said with a shrug of my shoulders, I just don’t think it’s worth the hassle.
My friend invited me along on one of her return trips. I took the bait and though I could have bought out the entire store, I had too much pride to admit it. I couldn’t let her know she was right. So I bought two items, pretending that everything else looked “picked over.”
But I returned to Kmart twice after that trip, the last time sneaking in by myself. Suddenly, the manager announced over the intercom that you could fill your basket to the rim with any and everything for only $20. I outran a dozen other possessed folks, grabbing a buggy and maneuvering my way past Batman Snack Maker displays and exercise equipment, making it to the major toy aisles in five seconds flat. Boxes of Legos. A Gumby key chain. A toy electric razor that says, “Smooth shave!” A Spiderman stopwatch. A plastic dinosaur. A Batman tote bag.
My closet runneth over, and like someone feeding the slot machines hoping for a jackpot, I eagerly await the next bargain store mission.
Mary Farrell Thomas writes a weekly column for the Daily Journal.