Sunday, May 18, 2014


At first glance, it seemed insignificant, a mere annoyance: this morning I went to four national chain retailers in Jersey City looking for Eureka MM vacuum bags. Home Depot, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Sears. All four list the bags on their respective corporate websites. That means nothing.

The Home Depot near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel had a tiny vacuum cleaner department on the store’s second floor across from the elevators. I doubt if anyone had shopped the area recently -- it was dusty and disorderly and the selection was miserly. They had a few Dyson filters, a couple of Hoover bags, and that was that.

The Best Buy is a five minutes walk from the Home Depot in a strip center just to the north of the Newport Centre Mall. The store had lots of vacuum cleaners on display -- the vast majority Dyson uprights. But they had only four or five packs of bags, none for the Eureka Mighty Mite. The staff was invisible.

Bed Bath & Beyond is in a different strip center on the other side of the mall. It shares its parking lot with a Shop-Rite, a BJs Club, a Wells Fargo bank, and a Pep Boys auto supply shop. A typically ugly American landscape. This morning a thin Asian man was emptying his white Econoline van of full garbage bags and leaving them in one of the shopping cart corrals. Presumably for the bums and seagulls to ransack. No one stopped him. The Bed Bath & Beyond had a welcoming young staffer ask me what I was looking for. When I said Eureka vacuum bags, she made a face. “Sorry,” she said. “We only carry Miele bags here.” I protested that Eureka bags were featured prominently on the BB&B website. She chortled. “They have lots of stuff on the website that we never see here in the store. But I’m sure they’ll have those bags at Sears.”

Sears is one of the anchors of the Newport Centre Mall. It used to stock a good deal of essential household appliances and hardware, mostly carrying the proprietary Kenmore and Craftsman nameplates. Now those essentials vie for space with “fashion goods” and lots of high-margin impulse items stacked tall at every cashwrap. Sears carried fewer vacuum cleaners than Best Buy and had a wall rack filled with empty slots where packs of bags should’ve been merchandised. No Eureka MMs, of course. I asked a courtly gentleman standing near the large appliance cash desk if all items were out on the floor, or whether some might have gotten stuck in the stock room. He answered thoughtfully, with a strong Jamaican accent. “No, I’m certain all we have is on display. We have been waiting for a resupply delivery. Perhaps it will arrive today.”

Four tries, four misses. I walked down to the light rail station, figuring I’d better get home before the rains came. When I got home, I went online -- many sites, including Amazon, showed the bags in stock and ready to ship. So I ordered two packs even though I hate online shopping. It feels like kissing a mirror.

An insignificant occurrence, to be sure, the case of the hard-to-find vacuum bags. But really? A quarter of a million people live in Jersey City, some of whom vacuum, and some of whom probably possess Eureka Mighty Mites. More are moving in all the time, judging by the number of new buildings going up all over downtown. And yet one cannot find replacement dust bags for one’s vacuum cleaner in a shopping “enterprise” zone featuring a full-scale mall and scads of strip centers with their big box stores.

You know what? Home Depot, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Sears deserve to go out of business. Their supply chain doesn’t work. They don’t have the goods people need. They are bad retailers. They continue to exist because the greatest force influencing the marketplace is sheer inertia.

I know all that but still I tried -- hoping against hope -- thinking that they might carry something as easy to stock as vacuum bags. No dice. Strange country we live in, dontcha think? We essentially stopped manufacturing goods a while ago but now we can no longer even sell them without recourse to the almighty internet, that cesspit of commerce, entertainment, and faux friendship. Now I’ve got to go vacuum -- "the dust in here is rising by the minute," he said as he pointed to his head.

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