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Gristmill: The Great Emptying

Wed, 11/17/2021 - 18:38

It was a barren retail-scape worthy of that father and son trudging through the postapocalyptic American wastes with a shopping cart in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” As empty and vast a quasi-public space, all fluorescent lighting and white linoleum, as the abandoned airport where gather a few harried survivors of contagion in Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven.”

It was Kmart in Bridgehampton on a late Monday afternoon in November.

I traced a circuitous route through, around, and past shelves newly geared up for the holidays, searching, improbably and unsuccessfully, for a volleyball for my eighth-grade daughter. “Wilson!” I could almost hear Tom Hanks’s cry.

But, in so doing, I encountered only two other meandering shoppers in all that square footage, and precisely one worker. Alone up at the registers, he greeted me with a friendly “How can I help you, man?”

He didn’t seem oblivious to the roaring quiet — just par for the course in the new Help Wanted America. Apparently, I had to take my search elsewhere for all goods sporting. Fair enough.

Meanwhile, right around the Commons corner, Panera Bread for months now hasn’t taken diners past 5 p.m. Too short on staff. This has bummed out the kids and me on more than one occasion. You know that Napa chicken salad sandwich they serve? It’s pretty damn good. Comes with a pickle spear, too. I’ve noticed, once happily, now with some sadness, that the place is, or was, popular with locals. Another blow.

Well, people are fed up, checking out, newly hip to the bill of goods we’ve all been sold for so long. But what follows the reckoning? A fair shake for these front-of-store workers? Increased unionization?

I’ll put a candle in the window for them this Christmas. I sure won’t be shopping.

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