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How I Nearly Died at a Big-Box Store — and Why I’ll Never Buy in Bulk Ever Again


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“First of all – let me start by saying I’m OK,” I began the call to my husband. “But I had a little incident…”

“Oh no,” he responded.

“I tried to go to shopping…” I explained.

He sighed. “What happened?!”

Here’s what happened: I’ve always had a love-hate relationship — mostly hate — with membership-only warehouse stores, places where you can buy large items at bargain prices. I like saving money, but I have a very low tolerance for these stores. The crowds, the lines, the pushing, the parking madness — I can’t take it. Also, my family lives in a modestly-sized, older house without much storage space, so many of the items are difficult for us to keep at home. And after my near-death experience at one of these stores, I vow never to go back! I’ll find another way to stockpile enough toilet paper to last a year.

How I Nearly Died on My Discount Shopping Trip

It was a Friday morning and I’d headed over to a coffee shop to work for a few hours while my son was at camp. I got my coffee, grabbed a table, and fired up my laptop. But there was a loud conversation going on nearby, so I found it difficult to focus. The two women behind me were talking about smoked whitefish. It just so happens that as the ladies were extolling the virtues of the bargain-priced whitefish that one of them had purchased at a local warehouse store, I had been thinking about going to the store that day. I’d recently caved in and renewed my lapsed membership, despite my hatred of shopping there, because I have a kid who eats like a linebacker and a new puppy. Listening to the whitefish ladies, I thought, I need paper towels, and peanut butter, and milk… If I go as soon as they open, it won’t be so bad. I can’t concentrate on anything anyway. So I headed off in my Subaru to the land of bulk bargains, giving myself a pep talk that I could do this — but I was overconfident and flew too close to the (large, discount-priced) sun, so to speak.

I marched into the store, determined not to let anything bother me. I would be patient and organized. I happily snacked on samples as I filled my cart with dog treats and huge boxes of my son’s favorite cereal.

Then, in the dairy section, I heard a loud noise. I thought it was just a regular part of the operations in the behind-the-scenes part of the store. But the din seemed to get even louder.

A store employee appeared and said, “Folks, please move to the front of the store.” Shoppers ignored him. He repeated himself, adding, “We need to clear this area.” A few people moved, but not many. The employee suddenly became a lot less complacent. “We need to EVACUATE THE STORE,” he yelled. “ABANDON YOUR CARTS AND LEAVE THE STORE AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.”

Evacuate?! At that word, my adrenaline kicked in. I dropped everything, raced out of the store, jumped in my car, and drove out of there as quickly as I could (which meant 20 miles an hour, due to the traffic congestion). “She died in a fire while shopping for items in bulk” can NOT be my obituary, I thought as I fled the store. Unfortunately, I left behind several of my reusable tote bags (“You LOST our bag from the museum? The nice one?” my husband later asked. “I was fleeing for my life,” I reminded him. He scoffed.)

I imagined the eulogy at my funeral. “She died doing what she did not love,” my husband would say. “She bought discounted paper towels — but she paid with her life!” he would sob. The guilt would consume him; he’d dab at his tears with generic-brand tissues that I’d bought in bulk, making him cry even more.

I never found out exactly why the store had to be evacuated, but it made me think about all the other possible deadly scenarios in that store. What if an enormous jar fell on my head and knocked me out cold? What if I got run over with a giant shopping cart? It could happen!

From now on, I think I’m going to stick to my comfort zone: ordering things online. Or I can go to another store in my area, also famous for its low prices (you know, the one with the red dot). I have yet to have a near-death experience there — although knowing me (“You’re like a female, suburban Larry David,” my husband likes to say), it’s probably only a matter of time.

This essay was written by Janine Annett, who lives in New York in a house full of piles of books, with her husband, son, dog, and very old cat. Her writing has appeared in places like The New York Times, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, SheKnows, the Establishment, and more. Visit her website.

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