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Holidays turn stores into obstacle courses

’Tis the season. Supermarkets love The Season. Our supermarket is a good one, all things considered; the staffers are always helpful, the selections are varied and the produce department is large and pretty good. The store provides handy little electric carts with big baskets on the front for those of us who find it difficult to shop on foot. Bless them for that. But during the busy holiday season (roughly early October through mid-January), it takes a nimble bumper-car mentality to maneuver the aisles. Unfortunately, actual bumping is frowned upon.

I always start at the right side of the store where all the carts are stored. The electric ones are plugged in next to the regular ones and the brightly colored plastic Kiddy Karts, which look like cars and are wide enough to carry two kids. They are often left blocking the aisles by mothers who forgot something and can't maneuver the cars to make a U-turn.

So I saddle up electric cart No. 3, unplug it and off I go to the produce section, dodging displays of pumpkins, gourds and winter squash of every sort. Why are those veggies on special display stands or decorative piles on the floor? Because they're Seasonal. There's no room for them on the regular display shelves, which are now occupied by 18 varieties of apples. Next to the apples in the formerly open aisles, there are now stands of caramel apples on sticks. If I make it through without toppling pumpkins or sticky apples, there is a hidden, flimsy little cardboard display lying in wait for me as I round the corner. It's stacked with little tins of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, mace and vanilla. They don't want me to forget these vital pumpkin and apple spices. I think I could crash that little display thingee just by looking at it. I live in fear that I'll hear "Clean up in produce" over the store speakers just after I pass.

Halloween went by without incident. With Thanksgiving, the pace — and the number of store displays — has picked up. Now there are cardboard turkeys with pleated-paper tails guarding the produce department. There's dried fruit spilling from cardboard cornucopias right next to a case of citrus fruit that my electric cart and I could easily get around last week. I'm forced to back up. My little cart beeps like a cement mixer truck in reverse.

By Christmas, I'll be dodging displays of holiday cards, candy, miniature Christmas trees, ornaments, stocking-stuffers and all things elf-ish. The flimsy, cardboard displays of pumpkin and apple spices will be joined by similarly vulnerable stands of red and green sprinkles, cookie cutters shaped like bells, fir trees and Santas. There are little packets of chopped nuts, too. How will I get through this holiday maze without leaving destruction in my wake or having an ugly encounter with a couple of screaming kids abandoned in a plastic Kiddy Kart? I'm stuck. I'm coming unglued. "Clean up on Aisle 5. Code Red!"

Sheila Stoll is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her at PMB No. 309, 7904 E Chaparral Road, No. 110, Scottsdale, AZ 85250.

Holidays turn stores into obstacle courses 11/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 3:30am]
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