Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Pick the Bic from the pocket, please January 14, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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NOW WE ALL KNOW that merchandise is returned to stores every day and restocked on shelves, right?

But how thoroughly are those returns checked, if at all?

Recently my husband shopped at the Target in Northfield and bought two pairs of jeans for our college-aged son, currently home from Boston on holiday break. These were purchased with cash as we have canceled our Target REDcard. We are choosing to be proactive rather than follow Target’s advice to “monitor our account” for possible fraudulent activity.

That said, we are always please to find jeans that fit our long-legged and slender 19-year-old.

Surprise. These jeans purchased at Target came with a Bic lighter stashed inside a front pocket and repositioned in this staged photo.

Surprise. These jeans purchased at Target came with a Bic lighter stashed inside a front pocket and repositioned in this staged photo.

I wasn’t pleased, though, when I discovered a Bic lighter buried in a front pocket of one pair of jeans as I removed labels to launder the pants.

Bonus two: A receipt to Walgreens tucked into the other pocket. This receipt was visible.

Bonus two: A receipt to Walgreens tucked into the other pocket. This receipt was visible.

A receipt to the Northfield Walgreens store was tucked inside the opposite pocket.

I assumed the jeans were not worn as all labels were attached and the pants appeared in new condition. So I tossed them in the wash.

Jeans purchased at Target with a receipt in one pocket and a Bic lighter in the other.

Jeans purchased at Target with a receipt in one pocket and a Bic lighter in the other.

It’s a good thing I always check pockets before doing the laundry. I wish Target would do the same before restocking merchandise.

But I suppose they have more important things to worry about than Bics in pockets.

HAVE YOU EVER FOUND anything unexpected in the pockets (or elsewhere) of just-purchased merchandise or discovered the merchandise had been used? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What I’ve learned about shoplifters November 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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VanillaI’VE HAD SOME EXPERIENCE with shoplifting. Not that I ever shoplifted. But some 30 years ago, when I worked at a local grocery store, a customer stole a bottle of vanilla as she passed through my check out lane.

The manager directed me and the suspect to the office to wait for the police. There I had to pat down the woman, a duty which to this day did not seem mine to perform. Today I would refuse to do so.

That initial encounter, though, erased any preconceived stereotype of shoplifters. This was an ordinary looking young woman, not someone who appeared down and out and in desperate need of stuffing vanilla, of all things, under her shirt. She could have been your sister.

Not long after, another customer tried to steal groceries via distraction. She engaged me in friendly conversation while I punched the prices of food, pulled from her cart, into the cash register. (This was in the days before bar codes.) “Pulled from her cart” are the key words here. She purposely failed to place the merchandise stashed under her cart onto the conveyor belt. The store manager, or maybe it was the security guy, noticed. Busted.

I learned two more key lessons about shoplifters. Always check under the grocery cart. And don’t be fooled by a friendly customer.

Fast forward three decades. My husband and I are shopping at Walmart in Faribault for, among other items, charcoal filters. When Randy finally locates the right number to match our room air purifier, he opens the box to assure the proper fit.

But there is no four-pack of filters inside. Rather, Randy finds two hard plastic shells in the shape of pliers. Except the pliers are missing. And so are the filters.

Who does this anyway?

And how did the thief manage to open that hard-as-steel clear plastic packaging right there in the aisle of Walmart without getting caught? Wedging open those molded casings is no easy feat, even in the comfort of your home.

I felt it my duty to report the theft to an associate in the hardware and paint department. He expressed no surprise at the method of stealing. “Happens all the time,” he said.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you had any experience with shoplifters or shoplifted merchandise?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Join the “Thanksgiving The Real Deal” movement November 21, 2013

TYPICALLY, I’M NOT ONE to jump on the bandwagon of a cause. If I have a strong opinion on a topic, I will express my viewpoint in a one-on-one conversation. That’s just me. But, occasionally, I will publicly voice my opinion here on a social issue.

This time that issue is retail stores opening on Thanksgiving Day and a new online grassroots effort to encourage people not to shop on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving the real deal logo

I wholeheartedly support my friend Beth Ann Chiles of Mason City, Iowa, and her co-organizer, Katybeth Jensen of Chicago, in their Facebook campaign, “Thanksgiving The Real Deal,” aimed at consumers, not retailers. Their premise is simple. If people don’t shop on Thanksgiving, retailers won’t feel pressured to be open.

Kind of the supply and demand premise. If there are no shoppers on Thanksgiving, there is no need for retail stores to begin Black Friday sales on Thursday.

Here’s a snippet of their thoughts:

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, being grateful, and feeling content. It’s about timing dinner around football games, not store openings. It’s about arguing with family members over politics, not with strangers over a toaster. It’s about eating too much, not spending too much. It’s about dreading kissing Uncle Albert or Aunt Mabel, not dreading long check-out lines. It’s about acing someone out of the last piece of pie, not a parking spot. It’s about arguing with kids over dishes, not a trip to the mall. It’s about putting away left-overs, not shopping bags….

…Thanksgiving is the best deal in town; it’s priceless. Let’s work together to keep it that way by protecting it from retail fear and the bait of a bargain!

My brother and sister-in-law brought a stack of newspaper ads for us to peruse after dinner.

This photo shows Black Friday ads from a few years ago in a Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. This image is not indicative of businesses open on Thanksgiving Day and is used here for illustration purposes only. On the “Thanksgiving The Real Deal” Facebook page, you will find a listing of retailers NOT open on Thanksgiving.

Now, choosing to endorse the “Thanksgiving The Real Deal” campaign was a no-brainer for me. I’ve never even shopped on Black Friday. I’ve heard, read and viewed the negative news stories about shoppers in pursuit of bargains. No, thank you. I’m not so driven to score a bargain that I would fight crowds or even arise early to shop on Black Friday.

Thanksgiving Day dinner at my house with family.

Thanksgiving Day dinner at my house with family. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And now that hysteria has edged into Thanksgiving Day, a holiday when we should be celebrating with family around the dining room table. I am very much a family-oriented person. I can’t imagine placing shopping before family or anyone wanting to work retail rather than gather with family or friends on Thanksgiving.

Some folks, like those with jobs in law enforcement, the medical field, firefighting and such, need to work, holiday or not. My second daughter, in fact, is on call on Thanksgiving Day as a Spanish medical interpreter. I won’t see her; she lives 300 miles away.

But if you are employed in retail, you shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving. These stores do not need to be open.

Like the organizers of “Thanksgiving The Real Deal,” I ask you to choose family instead of shopping. Show your public support for this cause on the campaign’s Facebook page (click here) and follow the suggestions to spread the word about this movement.

Focus, too, on giving thanks on Thanksgiving.

Stand strong against the societal pressures of consumerism. Choose not to shop on Thanksgiving.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Owatonna: Celebrating the old-fashioned shoe store September 10, 2013

I CAN STILL FEEL the taut cotton string snugged around the shoebox, knotted and clamping the lid in place, the smell of polish and leather locked inside.

I can taste, too, the sugary sweetness of the sucker tied to the shoebox, a treat for any child getting a new pair of shoes.

A back-to-school display at Owatonna Shoe.

A back-to-school display at Owatonna Shoe.

Leather and lollipops are as much a part of my childhood back-to-school memories as a Big Chief tablet and boxes of sharp-tipped Crayola crayons and lace-edged anklets.

They'll measure your feet at Owatonna Shoe.

They’ll measure your feet at Owatonna Shoe.

Back in the day, there were stores that sold just shoes or retailers like Montgomery Wards which featured sizable shoe departments with full customer service. Employees measured your feet then disappeared behind a cloth-covered doorway only to return with stacked boxes of shoes.

A clerk retrieves a box of shoes for a customer.

A clerk carries a box of shoes for a customer.

I remember feeling like a princess of sorts as the clerk slipped a shoe onto my foot, sometimes yanking shoelace ends before tying a tight bow. I would wiggle my toes upon command as the salesman bent low, pressing on the tip of the shoe to assure the right fit.

Nostalgia today draws me to places like Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in Faribault, a third-generation family-owned business. It’s my favorite shoe store as much for the service and quality of shoes as for the people who work there.

Owatonna Shoe is located to another long-time local business, St. Clair's for Men in the heart of downtown Owatonna.

Owatonna Shoe is located next to another long-time business, St. Clair’s for Men, in the heart of downtown Owatonna.

Recently I checked out another area family-owned shoe store, Owatonna Shoe at 121 N. Cedar Avenue in Owatonna, 15 miles to the south of my community. I didn’t need shoes. Rather I simply wanted to poke around, to see for myself why others have raved about this place.

I found the look of an old-fashioned shoe store in the basment, complete with vintage chairs.

I found the look of an old-fashioned shoe store in the basement, complete with what appear to be vintage chairs.

I found what I expected—a down-home friendly place with a welcoming atmosphere and great customer service.

On display: several items of Buster Brown memorabilia.

On display: Buster Brown memorabilia.

As a bonus, I also discovered bits of the past in a collection of Buster Brown collectibles…

Colorful vintage chairs in the basement.

Colorful vintage chairs and shoes in the basement.

…vintage chairs…

Tom Brick purchased this mechanical horse for Owatonna Shoe in 2010. It's original history in Owatonna stretches back to Duffy's Fairway Food Store, where it entertained generations of children from 1946-1990.

Tom Brick purchased this mechanical horse for Owatonna Shoe in 2010. Its original history in Owatonna stretches back to Duffy’s Fairway Food Store, where it entertained generations of children from 1946-1990. The horse still works.

…and a mechanical horse for the kids to ride.

Stacked boxes of shoes fill the store.

Stacked boxes of shoes fill the store.

Owatonna Shoe’s business motto, published on its website, says it all:

“We don’t just want to make the sale, we want to make a customer for life.” It’s a long time philosophy of Owatonna Shoe. We pride ourselves in providing unparalleled customer service, unique product offerings, and personalized attention in a fun, laid-back atmosphere.

FYI: To learn more about Owatonna Shoe, which has been serving the area for more than 65 years with service, quality and fit, click here.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This place pops with color and Owatonna pride.

This place pops with color and pride for the Owatonna Huskies.

A shoe sale in the back room in the basement.

A shoe sale in the back room in the basement.

A nod to Owatonna's namesake, the legendary Indian Princess Owatonna, at home where her statue stands in Mineral Springs Park.

A nod to Owatonna’s namesake, the legendary Indian Princess Owatonna. As the story goes, the maiden drank from the healing natural spring waters in the current day Mineral Springs Park.

The store carries the ever popular Red Wing brand of shoes made in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The store carries the ever popular Red Wing brand of shoes made in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Colorful shoes, colorful signs.

Colorful shoes, colorful signs.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling