When I lived downtown, in the bachelor flat overlooking the Catholic Church parking lot, I could also see the apartment building where my friend Margeaux lived. If ever I couldn’t sleep, or was just wide awake late at night, I would look out my window and see if her light was on. More often than not, it was, and I’d call and we’d go for a midnight stroll or head over to the nearby Denny’s for a bite.
For the longest time, the only downtown grocery store was a sad little market–AG Foods, with tiny trolleys, limited selection and limp produce. While I accepted it as being a better alternative than taking the bus to a bigger store, Margeaux really hated the AG with a vengeance. We’d often pop in together for provisions and always check out the seafood salad with a disgusting little octopus amid the shellfish chunks. (Who ever bought this I don’t know), we’d pass the little seven year old in his tie and apron, sorting apples and oranges (we assumed that he was the owner’s son…we hoped at least). But the store was limited, small, and boring. When news hit that a real grocery store was coming to the downtown, Margeaux was stoked, and I felt kind of sad. But the character…I would argue But the octopus salad, and justifiable child labour, and the tiny quaint trolleys, the painted mural outside of colorful balloons floating skyward…we don’t want that kind of thing to be defeated by an impersonal big box store. Right?
The day of the grocery store grand opening, a day we were too cool to attend, until we realized we weren’t that cool at all. Margeaux called. “Do you want to see the new store?” To which I responded before her question was uttered entirely. “YES”. And I had to admit, the store was beautiful. Clean, well-stocked, and amazing. And fickle me, I forgot all about my fight for the quaint store that was now dark and empty.
Word had spread sometime last year that a Target was coming to town. Ben and I often shopped at the Target when we lived in Perth, and came to depend on it as part of our weekly shop. Still, I really hate those big box stores. Ben recently got a Costco membership, but then got annoyed with me for never wanting to go there. While I appreciate a good deal like the next person, I hate the human traffic jams, thoughtless people milling about, taking up space with their giant shopping carts, and the screaming children mid-tantrum, while the parents ignore these red tear-stained faces and continue to compare prices. How else would you want to spend your precious spare time?
I used to love shopping, that was a legitimate pastime. Now, I don’t have the patience for it. I don’t love to spend money like I used to–I call it ‘frugal’, my husband calls it ‘cheap’. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of our lives, the immigration process has me on edge, as if I can’t settle back into our life here; I don’t want to be too attached to any possessions if we have to leave the country. As for clothes, I’m more into replacing something as opposed to buying something new for shits and giggles.
But the Target was creating quite a buzz in town–(which really means that we need more stuff going on other than the opening of a new store). As a carpenter, Ben was doing work inside the Target building–and despite myself, I couldn’t help but ask with curiosity and wonder: “What’s it like in there?”. Ben shrugs, “Like Walmart but red”. When the store finally opened, there were fifty or so people waiting outside for the doors to open, and it was actual news in the local paper.
A few weeks after that, my friend Rikie and I decided to check the store out. We passed though the entrance way, coffees in hand, and…”it’s just another store”. I said. I’m not sure what I was expecting…but it’s all the same stuff, all the same shoppers with their screaming children. In Target’s defense, I think the store had been pillaged by eager shoppers, and therefore, by us being too cool to get inside the minute the store first opened, we really lost out. But in reality, what do I really need? There is so much advertising out there; to be this, you need to buy that–product placement is rife in film and television, and it’s difficult to remain outside of that realm of wanting. But the critical thinker in me knows that I am being sold to–I’ve seen “Mad Men“, I know what kind of tomfoolery goes on behind the scenes.
There’s a huge part of me that’s relieved. The cash in my wallet would remain intact, as there was little I wanted to buy. After a full lap around the store, we return to any section that peaked interest; but it was not nearly exciting as we imaged. By the time we head to the checkout, Rikie had pillows, a notebook and a few food items. I had thank-you cards, Q-tips, and boxers for Ben. What a sad little haul. There was no thrill of a purchase, no excitement to rush home and tear open shopping bags and review the many items that now belonged to you. There was none of that. But there was also none of the guilt, the buyers remorse, the “did I really need that?” And there is a strange, quiet comfort from wanting nothing, at least nothing you can find on a shelf in a store.