Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wanted in Faribault June 1, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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ANGLED ONTO A CORNER LOT at the intersection of busy Second Avenue Northwest and Sixth Street Northwest near historic downtown Faribault rests this reward sign.

In the vale of darkness bulbs flash, drawing attention to the message from an upset homeowner whose front door faces Central Park and whose yard is now minus an impressive wind spinning sculpture.

Just across Second Avenue, the aged The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior rises. Thou shalt not steal.

And on the opposite corner, a stone’s throw from the DEAD OR ALIVE reward sign, sits the Parker Kohl Funeral Home.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo by Randy 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


Tales of consumer dishonesty from an honest vacuum cleaner salesman December 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:13 AM
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My new Bissell PowerForce Turbo vacuum cleaner replaces the General Electric vacuum I bought 8 1/2 years ago. The switch wore out on that 2002 vacuum just days before I was going to give the cleaner to my daughter for her new apartment.

YOU WOULD THINK that buying a vacuum cleaner should be easy, right? Not.

Faced with more than a dozen choices lining two sides of a big box store display aisle, I was overwhelmed by the selection—Eureka, Bissell, Dirt Devil, Hoover…

Not only did I have numerous brands from which to choose, but each company also offered high-end, low-end and in-between models.

And then the powerful force of name branding—tornado, wind tunnel, PowerForce—sucked me into the vortex of consumer confusion.

How would I ever decide which vacuum cleaner would pull the most dirt from my carpet?

I would need to focus, focus, focus.

OK, what did I want in a vacuum cleaner? Powerful suction. Adjustable height. Accessory tools. A bagless system. Filters that don’t cost a fortune. Sturdiness. Affordability.

As my husband and I began perusing the choices, I/we became more confused.

Then…, thankfully, an associate came to our rescue, told us the cheapest models were “crap” and wouldn’t last a month, that some consumers buy the $400 models (“but why?”) and that the bestsellers are Bissells, the vacuum he owns.

With that advice and his directive to consider the $69.94 (why can’t they just say $70?) Bissell PowerForce Turbo bagless vacuum stacked on the end cap, I felt like the swirling winds of too many choices were finally subsiding.

He gave us some additional money-saving advice. Rather than replace the foam filter, simply blow out the dirt and dust with an air compressor. Been there, done that, but still a solid tip for a shopper who may not have considered this option.

This associate was certainly impressing me with his knowledge and his honesty.

Then, he clinched the sale by telling us to keep the receipt and the box, and “if you’re not happy, you can return the vacuum,” honoring the store’s 100 percent customer satisfaction policy. “You wouldn’t believe the dirty vacuum cleaners that come back.”

I don’t know if it was the look of surprise on my face or what, but he then shared several more stories about returned merchandise that, to me, qualify as theft and I told him so. He didn’t disagree with my judgement.

A customer once returned motor oil that was clearly old oil drained from a vehicle, he said.

Consumers routinely return specially-mixed paint because the color isn’t right (didn’t know you could do that, I thought).

But the worst abuse of the retailer’s return policy this associate has seen occurred when a man returned a dirty, worn-out power sander that was a decade old.

“You took it back?” I asked, incredulous.

“He had the box and the receipt. What could we do?” he responded.

The company, he says, loses millions nationwide annually due to such merchandise returns.

And who pays for that? Consumers who purchase $400 vacuum cleaners? Or those of us who buy $69.94 vacuums?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling