New adventures in shopping

During our vacation in Maui last May, my wife Rita needed more assistance getting around than what's provided by an ordinary walking cane.

We happened to be inside the cavernous KMart recently built for the islanders. The greeter at the front doors suggested she try the "mart carts" - electric go-carts - whose maximum speed is slower than strolling speed but safe for in-door shopping. The experiment was successful.

During the past four months we've kept a close watch on the availability of electric shopping carts for handicapped persons who, for the most part, are senior citizens. This was not a scientifically designed survey, just an anecdotal experiment.

Our shopping expeditions have taken us into Larry's Markets, several Costco stores, Sam's Club and a couple QFC grocery stores. Each location we shopped had at least one operational mart-cart available for disabled shoppers. The new mega-Costco has three working models.

But I wonder why these shopping giants would not have the same number of electric carts inside their stores commensurate with the quantity of handicapped parking stalls. That would make sense to me because all permits for handicapped parking require a doctor's confirmation of the person's walking problems. Why not assume that anyone using a handicapped slot also could use assistance inside the store?

The more I dwelt on this issue, the more I felt the need to write a brief scenario of how I envision the modern grocery markets. I compared and contrasted the obvious merits of how guests are treated at four-star hotels.

For example, luxury hotels all have courtesy valet service to park your car and help with disembarking. Heck, even some ordinary, customer-conscious restaurants provide basic valet parking.

The new-age, galactic store I propose must have a similar service for handicapped-labeled cars and vans. Trained valets will provide assistance with every vehicle that wishes the aid.

I've seen Metro vans pick up and drop off shoppers at the South End Costco - they must have experience in specialized transportation. I'd consult them for further assistance with ideas. Parking lots will be painted with colored stripes easily identifying shoppers that require assistance.

The interiors of this 21st century store will have extra wide aisles similar to a well-planned highway system. Persons operating the mart-carts will have easy access to all sections of the store. Access to high shelves will be standardized. Specialized check-out lanes will be installed to service handicapped persons, without them ever having to lift an item.

In fact some grocery stores like TOPS currently have variable height check-out counters.

These stores could be extensions of senior citizen centers and community colleges. The results of my doctoral research with older persons showed that going to group functions to see friends ranked first among factors which addressed coping with stressful circumstances - and I think grocery shopping is stressful!

Other studies have shown that senior citizens met with groups of people because they saw them primarily as: a source of information; secondly, for stimulation; thirdly, for assistance; and, lastly, for self-evaluation.

Social participation assessments revealed that seniors belonged to an average of two voluntary associations, one of which was a senior center, which many visited frequently. Reasons for attending a senior center were threefold: to socialize, to take classes and for recreation activities, in that order. The typical member was widowed and lived alone. Income was derived primarily from Social Security.

Upon exiting the store, valet service will return the car and aid with the unpacking of the products purchased.

That's my concept in a thumbnail sketch. Will any forward-facing company be sufficiently brave to construct such a unique store? Or will the stigma of aging/handicapped be forever present?[[In-content Ad]]