Friday, March 24, 2006

Clear Out Of Touch With Time

Last night, I took a shopping trip to Bethel Park, where I spent over ten years as an employee at Borders. I don't get out that way much anymore. The experience was surreal, as if I had ventured into a parallel universe.

My first stop was at South Hills Village. Out of towners and youngsters call it "the mall", but those of us who grew up with in back in the 1970s know it as "The Village", which gives it kind of a creepy Patrick McGoohan vibe. Well, last night I felt like Number Six. For one thing, a longtime Pittsburgh area institution, Kaufmann's department stores, are gone, having sold out to Macy's. The new parent company closed the Village location because it already owned the department store at the opposite end of the building. That Macy's was previously known as Lazarus, but for many year prior to that had borne the name Horne's, another Pittsburgh shopping institution.

Kaufmann's now looks like a masoleum. It's especially scary at night, because instead of the end of a shopping mall, it looks like the end of the world. Much of the inside of the Village has changed as well. There is now an enclosed children's play area at one end, which did not concern me since I left the kids at home. After picking up a couple of accessories at Radio Shack for my new computer, I couldn't resist stopping at the bulk candy store. This place has been around for somewhat less than twenty years, and has undergone a few name changes in that time. Originally it was Help Ur Self, a name which convinced a college chum of mine to believe that the store should have a Sumerian theme. Then, for several years, it was Icky Sticky & Goo, which sounds kind of gross, implying that someone had already been sucking on the candy before it was put on sale. The current name is Sweets From Heaven. I don't like that either. It's too elegant. It conjures images of Victorian gentlemen gracefully handing Whitman Sampler boxes to their sweethearts. This store isn't like that. It's still a self-serve bulk candy store. To me, it will always be Help Ur Self.

My purchase consisted of a bag of Chocolate Covered Raspberry Jelly Rings and a bag of Licorice Allsorts. Not much has changed with me, either. That is the same kind of purchase I made at that store over ten years ago. The only thing that felt different was the price. Everything costs the same per pound, so the cashier girl plopped both of my bags onto the scale at once. Good thing I decided to forego the Gummi Worms, or I would have needed a bank loan to pay for the candy. Next time, I will try to get something lighter than Allsorts.

Once I found my way back out of the Village, I headed on over to more familiar surroundings. It's always fun to go back to Borders and see what kind of shape the old sections are in, and how all of my old colleagues are doing. Or it would be fun, if everything hadn't been moved and if there hadn't been so much turnover in the years since I left. For one thing, the bland off-whiteness of the walls has been replaced with alternating sections of garish orange and purple. Most of the short bookcases have been replaced with sky-high tall ones. And about time, too. I was asking for more shelf space when I started running out of room for books over ten years ago. Nice to see that they finally figured it out.

Everything else was confusing. The children's books are in the history section! The History section is where children's should be! And so on. The sole reason that I went was to use a coupon that I acquired by joining the Rewards card program. It took me a while to find what I was looking for, as I was in a state of shock for quite some time. (This was due not to the rearrangement of everthing, but because of the hideous orange and purple color scheme.) I recognized two guys who were working there when I left back in 2000, but didn't talk to them as I was never really close to either. After checking out at the cash register, I was about to leave when I spotted someone whom I could actually talk to.

"Edward!" I cried out. He greeted me warmly with a handshake. I asked him what the hell happened to the store. Another renovation, which would make it the first major overhaul in about ten years. Something else bothered me, something about the staff working at the store.

"What's up with the Borg implants?" I queried. It seems that, in order to keep in touch with one another but without blasting everything over the store's sound system, each employee must wear a communicator clipped to their belts and connected by wire to an earpiece.

I didn't want to know whether there were any other body parts with unseen implants, so I said good night to Ed and went grocery shopping. Even though I visit my local Shop 'n Save once or twice a week, it still felt different. This, at least, was a change that I was prepared for. The supermarket's Minnesota-based parent company, Supervalu (whose home turf stores are known as Cub Foods), recently completed a deal to sell off some of its regional chains, including SNS in the Pittsburgh market. The biggest change that we, the "end users", see in the stores is the discontinuation of the S&H Greenpoints program. It felt odd to walk through the store and not see any reference to the accumulation of Greenpoints. That was kind of sad. But on the bright side, the store still uses the Greenpoints Rewards card to extend special in-store offer to customers, so that's good!

In another couple of years, when I decide to leave the house again -- or when I run out of Allsorts, whichever comes sooner -- I am going to try to be better prepared for the temporal traumas that await me. Nothing stay the same for very long anymore.


jipzeecab said...

I obviously could react for an hour about this post.
First coincidences: My sister worked for several years at the King of Prussia Mall "Borders"(largest mall on the east coast). She left Borders to work at a nearby "bulk candy store" there. Early last year my brother-in-law began working for the "bulk candy store" at the other end of the mall. Shortly after this my sister left the candy store and went back to work at Border's where her role is to help customers find particular books (research she calls it). I will have to ask her about the "borg implants" (are the "monocles" coming next?).
I'm not sure if you visited the Shp-n-sve in BP or the one on Mt. Lebanon Boulevard but I've been told both are actually locally owned by a local company that owns the one in Bridgeville called Sabrara's so they weren't affected by the Supervalue sale directly (but perhaps indirectly). The BP store started a remodeling program since the Supervalue sale which if you happened to be there yesterday you might have noticed it has become more attractive in a merchandising sense in that there is a lot more "open space".(They are still light years behind Giant Eagle in presenting themselves however..see the one on Oxford Drive which is still remodeling itself).
We had hoarded Greenpoints for several years and suddenly had to unload them all before this past March 18 which we managed to get rid of by buying all of our groceries for free (with maybe $2.00 cash) on our last three visits. We ended up with about 35 unused points.
I happened to talk about "the card" with a cute cashier last evening and she told me at the moment it isn't good for anything because you don't need it to take advantage of the sale items..maybe this will change or they will implement something new..I think you can use it as a check cashing id there still.
I have a friend that worked for Kaufmanns. He told me they are planning to close the downtown store for 8 months while they rennovate to reopen it as a modernized urban Macy's.
Of course everyone should be OUTRAGED about the damn Lazarus deal the city wound up with where they built a "modern urban department store" that failed and when "Macy's" (Federated or whoever the hell they are)acquired it backed out of the deal. (I know don't get upset things you have no control over..national corporate policy of a retail giant doesn't consider the havoc they create at the local level)..
I'll bet you remember when the South Hills Kaufmanns was where the "Galleria" is now...
by the way if this comment appeared several times it is because your "word verification" is being a prick today..

Nicko McDave said...

How did I know that mentioning Bethel Park would prompt a comment longer than most posts on your own blog?

My grocery store is the Shop 'n Save on Castle Shannon Blvd, a/k/a "Castle Shannon/Mount Lebanon Shop 'n Save". It used to be billed as "Mount Lebanon/Castle Shannon Shop 'n Save" until some CS people expressed growing concern with municipal sovereignty.

We had the same problem with Borders. Customers would ask if we were the one in Mount Lebanon, or in Upper St. Clair. In fact, the store is in an odd corner of Bethel Park that sits on the "wrong" side of Route 19. I got used to that fact in a big hurry because I needed to know who was getting my occupation tax, and which cops we needed to call in case of robbery.

I still have some Greenpoints, unless my wife used them all for free groceries. If there are some left, it might be worth my while to visit the Greenpoints web site to see what kind of goodies I can get on the cheap. The card is still good, though, if you want to take advantage of sale items, but don't expect the cashier to be up front about telling you this. So much for your cute cashier!

Yep, I remember going to Kaufmann's at the Galleria many years ago. I was shopping with my parents, and I spotted Patrice King Brown from KDKA-TV getting on an elevator. I thought to myself, "John Cigna was right -- she is a babe!" She was even cuter than on TV.