Small business swallows pride

     I thought it was a nightmare. I innocently opened the pantry door for my morning cereal and cowered at the sight of a huge box of Cheerios looming over me.
      To my right stood an enormous carton of Cheez-Its, on my left a gigantic can of baked beans.
     Still disbelieving, I checked under the kitchen sink. The dishwashing soap was eight times its normal size! I ran to my beloved shower and felt the hysteria when I saw my favorite shampoo. It looked too gargantuan to lift.
    "Aiyeeeeee," I screamed. "Iím shrinking!!!"
    My wife came running from the bedroom. "Whatís the matter?" she asked. "Are you all right?"
    She seemed the right size, which calmed me slightly. "The cereal, soap, shampooÖ" I stammered. "Much biggerÖhaving nightmare."
    "Thatís no nightmare," she replied. "I forgot to tell you I took my first trip to the new Costco yesterday."
    "Aiyeeeeee," I screamed even louder.
    "Now whatís the matter?" she asked.
     My wife, bless her heart, has the loyalty of a wood rat. "Have you forgotten?" I replied. "I am a small businessman who happens to be in the retail business. These warehouse clubs are the arch-enemy of small retailers."
   "So," she said, "whatís your point?"
    "These warehouse clubs are cutting the throats of small retailers," I repeated. "Neighborhood stores are suffering a dramatic loss of revenue because people like you are dropping them left and right just because you can save a few pennies."
    My wife opened the cabinet and, after cutting through the shrink-wrap, pulled a tissue from one of the 12-pack cartons of Kleenex she had purchased. She handed it to me. "Oh, cry me a river," she said.
    "Donít you have any conscience," I sobbed. "What about poor old Mr. Winkle at Winkleís Hardware on North Main. What do you think he would say if he saw you up at Costco?"
    "I donít know," she replied. "I should have asked him. He was behind me in line."
    Not Mr. Winkle! My fellow retailer, associating with the enemy! My business isnít even affected by the competition of the wholesale clubs, but Mr. Winkleís hardware store will be gobbled up any minute. What was he doing there?
    "He was buying frozen lasagna," she replied, matter of factly.
    "They sell lasagna!" I blubbered. "There goes the Italian restaurant business. Who else is left to ruin, besides me?"
    My wife was beginning to enjoy this. "Now that I have my membership card, I thought I might go again today. Want to come along?"
    She seemed pleased about the membership card. I wondered how someone's self-esteem would handle being turned down for membership by a wholesale club. "Never," I replied.
    "They sell boats and cars, too."
    "I donít know. I guess."
    "Letís go." I paused, looking her in the eye. "But Iím not buying anything."
    We drove to Costco that same morning. I breezed through the aisles of computers, copiers, faxes, telephones, televisions and stereos, sadly thinking of the little electronic stores that once graced our neighborhood.
    My wife was beside me, preaching the virtues of warehouse shopping. I would have none of it Ė until I saw that toaster.
    All white, with four slots, wide enough for waffles. Hating myself, I glanced at the price. $24.99! It was the deal of the century!
    I tried to remain calm but the twitch under my eye gave me away. "You want it, donít you." she said.
    "Mr. Winkle has toasters," I replied.
    "Maybe he does, maybe he doesnít," she said in her most seductive tone. "But if he does, it will be much more expensive."
    Before my twitch could spread through my entire body, I grabbed the toaster. The battle lost, I quickly scooped up a video for the kids ($9.99), a warm-up jacket for me ($14.99) and the largest container of mixed nuts Iíd ever seen ($12.99). And I never looked at my wife once.
    She paid, using her membership card, and then urged me to get my own photo I.D. membership card so I could come without her. But I would go only so far. In honor of all the small retailers who are suffering from these warehouse clubs, I refused to smile when my picture was taken.

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