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Bartell Drugs

Went into a Bartell Drugs tonight for the first time in my life. Came away vastly unimpressed, not only because of their ubiquitous radio advertisements but because of friends who've recommended Bartell stores for service and speed, in addition to good prices.

Ever since I moved here in March 2002, I've heard ads on the radio for Bartell's, using just-folks "real customer" sound bites of people raving about the Bartell Drugs shopping experience: Good prices, friendly and efficient clerks, locations close by, faboo weekly specials, blah blah blah.

Tonight I was at a Tully's in Bella Botega, a shopping area in the 8800 block of 161st Ave NE in Redmond. There's a Bartell Drugs right next door to Tully's, and I thought, what the hell, I needed shaving cream and some other sundries, so in I went.

All parts of the entire store were clearly visible from all other parts of the store. I could see all the walls, the pharmacy windows at the back wall, the tops of all the aisles (the shelf risers were about five feet high). That was fine, because in theory it makes for ease in finding one's way around the store, but the directory signage hanging above each aisle doesn't contrast well with the bright lighting and the light colors of the decor, so the visibility ends up being a hindrance more than a help. I couldn't see the light-colored directory signs well enough to tell where I wanted to go, so I ended up wandering up and down a few aisles before I found what I needed.

And there's the thing. The shaving cream, razors, aftershaves, facial care in general—all of those items were on an aisle about three or four out from the right front corner of the store, just about directly in front of me as I walked in the right-most of the two sets of doors. So I figured the toothpaste and brushes and other things I wanted to get would be nearby, say an aisle or two over, but no dice. Those items are way the hell across the store at the back area by the pharmacy windows, with general merchandise such as auto parts, light bulbs, books, pet supplies, etc., standing in between.

It seems most general drug stores are laid out this way nowadays, and it's never made sense to me. Flashed me back to the Grand Central stores in Salt Lake City way back when I was a kid, and more recently the Osco and now Walgreen's and Rite Aid stores everywhere.

Ah well, once I figured out the layout oddities, I found what I needed and headed toward the cash registers, where the two employees who seemed to be in the store were each running a register. I picked the nice older lady because she only had one person at her register when I walked up there, and she started ringing up my items. And then she needed a price check, so she picked up her telephone, pressed the PAGE button, and in a deliberate tone, screamed

over the public-address system.

When the blood cleared from my ears, and the customers in line behind me had managed to clear the ringing in their ears, we all stood looking expectantly back toward the rest of the store, waiting for the price-check clerk's head to come bobbing along one of the aisles and take care of our needs. No one came. And that's when my clerk said, "Oh, we're both up here already. I'll have to go check it myself." And off she went.

She was gone for perhaps four minutes, during which time I could have made the price check at least a dozen times. When she came back up, she was holding the sign I'd read to point out that it didn't apply to the item I was buying, but I asked her to read it once more and sure enough, it did apply after all. So she had to go through the machinations of a price correction, by which time the customers in line behind me were fashioning makeshift hara-kiri swords and/or stringing themselves up over the artificial Christmas trees.

And the worst part was that this clerk wasn't remotely gracious about it. I understand the difficulty of working in a store when there's a shortage of employees—I worked at a Kmart for nearly 8 years and we often were shorthanded around high-school graduation times and during spring break, when the kids who made up the bulk of the part-time work force decided to skip their shifts in favour of hanging out with their friends or having actual lives. However, that was no excuse for treating customers like shit, or acting as though you're being squirted with lemon juice after enduring three hours of paper cuts. Someone needs a price check, or an item from the warehouse, or whatever, off you go to get it, because it's your goddamned job. Find another job if you don't like it.

So I was underwhelmed with my Bartell's experience, and likely won't be going back there unless it's the only possibility for an item I absolutely cannot live without. With the numbers of drugstores increasing so steadily, I don't see that happening.