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My 5 Questions for Staples

It’s back-to-school time, and each of my three children needs school supplies, pronto. The teachers send lists from school, and these arrive at our house on different days, depending on when each class first meets. Another day, another visit to Staples.

It occurs to me that I am spending more time there than in my own living room. So, Staples, since we are so chummy at this point, I figure you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions.

1. What part of back-to-school rush do you not understand?

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My crew and I head through the giant red sliding doors with our brand-new school supply lists. I’ve got the credit card in my wallet, the reusable bags on my arm. We are ready to spend. But you, Staples, are out of everything.

You do not have handheld pencil sharpeners. You lack pink erasers. Even paper! Way off in a corner I find one pack of 125 sheets of wide-ruled paper. But the teacher wants 400 sheets of college-ruled. By the time I return to the cart and my kids, I’m too dizzy to notice that it looks slightly fuller than before. Only once I’m home, unloading bag after bag of stuff, do I spot the sparkle pens and the Angry Birds flash drive. I’ll be back tomorrow (still looking for paper, toting more lists), but I’ll forget and leave these items at home. Staples, you sneaky beast, you beat me this time.

2. THREE varieties of binders? Really?

I’m back the next day, looking for binders. The “durable” binder at $3.99 a pop looks like a good choice. My son’s not a gentle child. He gives his possessions a good, hearty beating. Then I spot the “heavy duty” variety, for a dollar more each. Well, that’s a bit of overkill. The kid’s not operating a bulldozer.

The extra dollar still in my wallet, I’m headed out of the section when I pass the “better binders.” They’re rimmed and edged in black rubber. They are, at $6.99 each, nearly double the cost of a “durable.”

I pick one up, turn it sideways, swing it open and closed. No way it’s going to peel apart. No way it will split in half. Ain’t nothing taking this baby down. It is better. Doesn’t my kid deserve better?

Staples, you are now $3 wealthier and I am vowing that next time I will grab my first choice and dash for the register.

You’d think an office supply store would be a haven from the sugar battle.

3. Would it kill you to stick those binders next to the packs of lined paper?

Of course, there’s a reason why I can’t run. I’ve got a binder, sure, but I still need that paper. All binders need paper. Couldn’t you stack some packs of paper near the binders? The paper is nowhere in sight. It’s not on an aisle. It’s not along the wall. Finally, in the center of the store, next to the stationery, for heaven’s sake, I spy a few stacks ... of wide-ruled. By this point, a pack of Sharpies and some Martha Stewart organizing gizmo has also migrated into my cart. Staples, you win again.

4. What do Hot Tamales have to do with office supply?

So my son needs a calculator for his honors geometry class and, no, the seven we have at home won’t do. Plus my daughter’s 4th grade teacher has a wish list 12 items long, so we are back at Staples for the third day in a row. Still no college-ruled paper (could someone please alert the warehouse that some of us are in need around here?), but the candy and snack racks surrounding the register remain plumply stocked. “Mommy, please, can I just have the bag of candy corn? Please-please?” My daughter wails, “I’ve been asking for three days now!” I know. I’ve been right here, in the endless checkout line, listening. You’d think an office supply store would be a haven from the sugar battle. So not the case. I stonewall. She whines. I curse under my breath. She opts for negotiation. We settle on a pack of sugarless gum. Touché, Staples.

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5. If you are truly a discount store, why is my bill $200?

Day No. 4. The 7th grade homeroom teacher needs Kleenex boxes (if you guessed my children attend underfunded public schools, bingo! You would be right), and my 4th grader lost the spiral notebook we bought her three days ago. On my careful rounds of this space I’ve come to know so well, I spy one 400-sheet pack of college-ruled paper. Score! I do not grab anything that is not on the lists. I do not let the cart out of my sight. We make it through the checkout line without adding one sugary treat to our pile. And I am feeling pretty victorious. Until the next day when I’m at home at my computer, adding up the Staples charges on my Visa bill. We’ve spent more than $200 there in one week.

You win, Staples. Game. Set. Match.

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