This is the story of how I tried to buy two pillowcases at Bed Bath & Beyond and how it turned into an all-day ordeal. But it’s also a story of how the entire retail landscape has changed (and not for the better) and how that’s a metaphor for the economy in general.
In case you haven’t been following the news, Bed Bath & Beyond recently filed for bankruptcy and I think I know why. First, they spent God knows how many millions of dollars to renovate their Chelsea flagship store, which was an unnavigable warren of dead ends and the source of one of my favorite jokes. (“I just spent three hours at Bed Bath & Beyond. Not shopping, trying to get out.”)
That was a good thing.
The bad thing is that there’s now no merchandise in the store. No merchandise and no sales help.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.
Where there used to be an entire wall of sheets and pillowcases arranged by price and color, there’s now a wall of high-priced comforters and nary a sheet or pillowcase in sight. So rather than an array of $20 pillowcase sets, as I’m accustomed to finding, you now find one set of $80 pillowcases.
That’s the other thing that’s happened. There’s no merchandise and what little merchandise they do have is overpriced.
I asked if they had any Wamsutta pillowcases (Bed Bath & Beyond’s house brand) and they said no, and they wouldn’t be getting them in until June.
It’s February! I’m supposed to wait four months for pillowcases?!
And, by the way, it’s still as impossible to find your way out of the store as it was before the redesign (which is not entirely a bad thing because it means I can still do my joke).
Since there are a Marshalls and a TJ Maxx in the same building, I decided to try my luck there.
Woe unto the person who decides to enter either of these hellholes!
They’re both a hodgepodge of low-quality merchandise thrown together in no particular order. I had a flashback to the bargain basement establishments my parents used to drag me to. You know, the kind with bad lighting?
Needless to say, I hightailed it out of there without buying anything.
And what’s the difference between Marshalls and TJ Maxx, anyway? Why do we need both of them?
After I regained my composure, I attempted to do a Google search on my phone for “pillowcases near me.” (Why are there 200 kinds of anything you try to do a search for on Google?)
The closest thing I could find in my price range was Target. I saw that the Tribeca location had exactly one set of blue cotton pillowcases for under $20, so I rushed down there.
Target is another sort of bargain basement hodgepodge, and they also had barely any sales help. (They even make you check out your own purchases. If I wanted to work here, I'd apply for a job!)
But I did find my one set of blue cotton pillowcases for under $20, so I felt like my day had not been a total waste.
So why is this a metaphor for the economy in general?
Because the retail marketplace mirrors our economy at large, which is to say there’s a high end and a low end, but no middle.
Beyond that, there’s the sheer contempt with which the people in charge of these establishments hold their customers (hence the lack of sales help).
The whole atmosphere seems to say, “We only care about maximizing profits for our shareholders, and if you don’t like it, you can go someplace else.”
Except you can’t. If everyone’s doing it, there’s no place else to go.
So old farts like me, who like to actually see what they’re buying before they pay for it, are left holding the self-checkout bag.
So I guess I’ll be (reluctantly) buying my sheets and pillowcases at Target from now on.
Or at least until June.