Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bulk shopping: from fire to friend

A month ago we joined BJs. If you don't know what BJs is, congratulations. You have managed to avoid American big box culture. For all others, I know, it took us a while to get on board.

I don't hate BJs. Let me start with that. (And men, stop giggling.) Costco, BJs, or whatever other feedstore is out there that requires you to buy everything in bulk is more acceptable to me than Walmart. Walmart has stripped the American economy of any individuality and left a wide path of destruction among the American small business [here, here, and here for example]. I try to avoid shopping in Walmart, and have often "stayed in the car" while others in my party have gone in. To be honest, my opinion of Walmart is also affected by my personal experience there in the fall of 1997.

I was with my college roommates on a trip out of our dorm and the car we were in wouldn't start in the parking lot. We thought it had overheated, and listened to music while it cooled off. After a bit, I decided to check under the hood as I was dating a mechanic at the time and had watched him work on cars long enough that I figured I could see if something looked out of place. To be fair, every car I had driven up to that point needed some sort of fiddling to start (open air filter vent, pump gas pedal 5 times, etc). Well, it turned out the car engine was on fire.

Yes, on fire.

I quickly shut the hood and told everyone to get out. Now.

The four of us quickly secured the car and stepped about 10 feet away. Then realizing that wasn't far enough, we ran into Walmart to get help. The friendly, elderly greeter at the door responded to our cries for help by handing us the sales flier, and the "customer service" desk refused to call the fire department because the parking lot was not their jurisdiction.

Plus, it was the 2nd car fire there that week, so they had some concerns about insurance.

Meanwhile, we went back to the car which now had smoke spilling from the front grill...which attracted some attention, but not as much as you would think. However, one person who did come over was a very, very, very tall man from Africa. He said that in his country (I don't know which part of Africa he was from, but realize Africa is not a country) people had to help themselves and not rely on the government. He proceeded to open the hood, which I had not shut all the way, and throw dirt on the fire. Except we were in a landscaped parking lot in Latham, NY and there was no dirt. There were wood chips. So, this man added wood chips to the car fire.

At this point I ran to a pay phone (oh, the era before cell phones!) and shouted at the person using it until they hung up and then I dialed 911--who were not concerned about our situation until I said we attended the local college . They must have thought we were trouble makers as they said someone would be there right away!

And they were. At this point the very, very, very tall African man had disappeared and we were left huddled together watching the fire fighters spray down the engine. Then, they looked inside and began pulling the wood chips out.

"Did you throw WOOD on the fire?" they asked us.

We attempted to explain about the very, very, very tall African man but we sounded a bit loony, and they didn't want to hear it. Instead they started making fun of us.

The car needed a tow and we were out of there. Walmart never was the same for me.

But BJs is different. While the three leading bulk sized stores (that's what I'm calling them, I'm sure there is a proper name) [Sams Club, Costco, and BJs] can be considered an obstacle to the lower economic classes as they have yearly membership fees and sell in bulk so you must pay more for the product up front, we decided that bulk shopping may be for us. So we joined. We are lucky enough to have the money up front to do so, and pay for the membership fee [Disclosure: we are the middle...right in the 50% of that 99%. I don't do math, but I think you get the point.] I had been in a bulk store before as my roommate in college worked at Sams and we used to visit her, and have also worked in the food industry and been sent out to one of them for giant cans of caramel.

My first time there as a member was overwhelming. Did we really need 40 rolls of paper towels at once? How many boxes of cereal equals that large box? Plus, I wasn't sure we were saving money. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's exactly the same. And I'm not buying meat from BJs. I just have a hard time about that...I'm sure it's fine, but we have access to a farm for beef. But it turned out we do need those paper towels. And my husband is building us storage cabinets. And...we've turned into peanut butter speculators.

My husband heard through some news report that the peanut crop was bad this summer, and decided to stock up on peanut butter. Sure enough, there is now a limit on the number of jars you can buy at BJs and the price has gone up. We're stocked up though.

Know what they also have there? Appliances. Gift baskets. Free samples. Everything. They have everything. It's amazing.

Essentially, we're on board. Bulk shopping, I need you. You make me feel like a hoarder in a good way, and I get surprised when I find I did not run out of that essential pantry item.

Plus, based on my encountered with staff at BJs, I am pretty sure they would call the fire department if there was a car fire in their lot, although they may ask to see your membership card first.


Catherine M. said...

that was very very funny.

Elle33 said...

As a longtime hater of WalMart, I agree with your thoughts. I was more passionate about the cause in college, my only time entering a store being the day of my friend's wedding in 2001 when it was our only option for buying replacement stockings on short notice.

I'm sorry I missed that scene though -- throwing wood chips on the fire. That really made me laugh. Love it.