I hope it’s not just wishful thinking, but I think I’ve seen signs that we might be coming out of the chaos. Well, at least one sign.
But that one sign did appear twice in mid-May, during shopping trips that otherwise were still pretty surreal, considering the one one-way aisles, the checkout blocking, the still-empty shelves (in some key categories), and the masks – especially the masks. Even an activity as commonplace as grocery shopping becomes a scene out of a science fiction movie when the face of every shopper and store employee is covered.
The first time was at Walmart, which thankfully was light on shoppers at 8 a.m. on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. (The presents were already purchased online, but I still needed the cards – which, yes, are most definitely a “necessary purchase” in this house.) The store’s entryway was filled with signs of the times explaining all the safe-shopping guidelines Walmart has implemented. To the left, Action Alley led to checkout, so the floor was marked with the X’s needed to keep queued shoppers distanced. To the right, the path to apparel departments was similarly clear of any secondary displays.
But the aisle dissecting the middle of the store did carry pallets, including a series of four that communicated a most welcome sign of normalcy not only for marketing and merchandising, but for society as well: s’mores. The pallets stocked Hershey’s chocolate bars, Jet-Puffed marshmallows and Honey Maid graham crackers. Pallet wraps encouraged shoppers to “Win a $5,000 backyard makeover” through an exclusive Walmart promotion from Hershey’s.
The second time was the Sunday after Mother’s Day at ShopRite, which unfortunately was already crowded by 8 a.m. – as expected, since this particular ShopRite is never light on shoppers. Although I only had a few items to buy, I walked every (one-way) aisle to get a sense of the environment. There were a handful of secondary displays throughout the store, some in their standard locations (like the promotional aisle) and others in weirdly placed positions (like Rice Krispies Treats in the paper aisle).
But in the very last aisle, across from the milk cooler, was a three-sided endcap inviting shoppers to “Make it a S’mores Saturday” and merchandising the same three products as above. Seeing another execution of this iconic staple of seasonal promotions was somehow reassuring that, maybe, the end of this crisis is nearing.
My family began tiptoeing our way back into social occasions last month by inviting one or two people over to enjoy the patio fire pit with us for a couple of hours on Saturday nights. These small gatherings pale in comparison to what has been our annual Memorial Day party, which typically involves dozens of friends and family members sitting on our lawn in the morning to watch the municipal parade that passes by the house, then staying around for brunch, dinner and maybe even a third round of grilling before we wrap up. The parade was cancelled, of course. So was the party.
But while we’re waiting for life to get back to normal (and hoping we can all stay safe in the process), at least we can make some s’mores.