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At this time of year, almost everyone writes about Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, as  I have done in the past.  This year, I simply offer my hope that, during these troubled times, those who celebrate Christmas had a joyous holiday and those who celebrate Chanukah, had a Chag Sameach.  To those who celebrate Kwanzaa, I ask Habari Gani? I hope I have not left anyone out.

In Woody Allen's 1976 film The Front, he plays Howard Prince, a cashier who poses as a writer to whom blacklisted authors submit their work to get it published.  He meets a woman from Connecticut who says that she was very well-bred - - from "the kind of family where the biggest sin was to raise your voice."  Prince (Woody) retorts: "Oh yeah? In my family the biggest sin was to pay retail." I thought about this as I did my shopping this season.

When I was growing up, Passaic had a wonderful shopping district.  If you wanted to buy something, you went to a store and paid the amount on the price tag.  Twice a year, stores would have a sale: "End-of-Summer" or "End of Winter" or "Semi-Annual White Sale" (when linens and towels were marked down).  Occasionally there was a "Clearance Sale" or an "Anniversary Sale."  Gradually, the "end of season" sales took place earlier and earlier, so that summer sales began on July 4th, and winter sales began on December 26th.   In my early adult years, the Garden State Plaza opened a new horizon for shopping.  With it, and with the malls that followed, came longer store hours and other shopping opportunities.  Little by little, more sale days crept into the mix. 

Fast forward to today.  We have sales for Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Graduation, Fathers' Day, Independence Day, Mid-Summer, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Election Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, just to name the obvious ones. In addition, sales are often extended, as long as they don't not run into the next sale event.  Not only that, some stores have special "Wednesday" sales, or week-end sales or pre-holiday sales, or sales for no reason.  In fact, there is hardly a time when there are no sales at all.

On a regular basis, Pina and I receive coupons from one retailer for 20% off any item, and others for $5.00 off any item.  There is no limit to how many coupons you can use, only that they can't be combined. The coupons have expiration dates, but the cashiers ignore them.  Also, they will spend as much time as it takes to help you use your coupons to get the most discount possible.

The other day, I went to an electronics store to purchase a power cord for an electronics device.  The "retail" prices varied from $12.95 - $29.95.  I told the young man who was helping me that I had seen a cord on-line for $5.95 (reduced from $42.95) and asked what the difference was between the one his store was selling for $19.95 and the one I was considering.  His answer was:  "$14.00, minus shipping ($3.50).  That's how I buy all of my electronic products."

Worst of all is the retail cost of paper.  Although we are working toward paperless, I still use a great deal of paper.  We buy ten reams at a time.  The cost is all over the place.  Sometimes it is $54.95 a case, sometimes $44.95, or $34.95, or 29.95, or $26.95, or $19.95 or $14.95, and even as low as $9.95.  Then there are offers to “buy two, get one free,” which can average out to almost any of the above numbers.  These prices are all for the same quality and quantity of paper.  The only catch is that you have to pay the “retail” price and then submit for a rebate.  If you do it right, you always get the rebate.  I don’t know about anyone else, but it really irks me to know that the same case of paper could cost $54.95 or $9.95.  There is just something wrong.

Before I began writing this piece, I searched on line for a definition of retail price.  The best I could find was that it is the "full price; an abbreviated expression, meaning the full suggested price of a particular good or service, before any sale, discount, or other deal."  In other words, "a "retail price" is only a suggestion.  The actual price is whatever the retailer wants it to be.

Don't get me wrong.  I love a bargain.  But when you can almost always purchase a product for less than the suggested price, how to you know when a bargain is really a bargain?  To me, "retail" is an archaic word.  You have to be crazy to buy anything at "retail" anymore. 


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