Mom needs her $12,000 chair

Many shoppers, like me, still prefer to shop in local retail stores, especially for clothing where size, fit, color and potential usefulness all influence our choices. As a wife, mother — and, now, senior citizen — let me share the "Tale of the $12,000 Chair!"

Many years ago as a military wife with three growing sons and a husband overseas, I shopped at various stores for their clothes. The biggest challenge was finding properly fitting trousers, so they had to try them on each time in the fitting rooms of the men's department.

Not being comfortable — or welcome — in the men's fitting rooms, I asked for a chair outside, where my sons could model for my approval. When I found a good fit, I'd buy several pairs of trousers or shirts in different colors. Having the chair available gave me a chance to bend down to check length and fit, and I was much more patient when seated. Three boys per visit meant at least an hour in that chair, leading to more and wiser purchases — and no "returns."

Almost every time I returned to buy their clothes, I'd find the chair missing; some manager would decide the chair was taking up space that could be used for merchandise. Little did he know that the chair, used by tired moms, was an income producer.

Now in my mid-80s, little has changed. My husband depends on me to help him select clothes; he tries them on, comes out to get my opinion and, if they fit correctly, we're likely to buy them in several colors.

I've been partially handicapped and cannot stand for long periods. There is often no chair available outside the fitting rooms, and many sales staff can't — or won't — help me find one. Frequently I've even moved their display merchandise slightly to sit down somewhere — as a last resort. I've had many dirty looks from sales clerks, little realizing they were antagonizing the customer. Sometimes, I just gathered my family and left the store.

They don't understand that the 4- to 6-square-feet occupied by a customer in a single chair can represent an extra $1,000 sales per month. How? If only 20 wives, girlfriends or mothers who sat there in one month spent an extra $50 each, buying two well-fitting items instead of one, that chair would generate an extra $1,000 in sales a month, or $12,000 per year.

The chairs in the men's department could be labeled "For Wives and Moms," and in the children's department, "Mom's Chair," or some other catchy title. Maybe then the chairs wouldn't drift away.

We remember which stores provide a comfortable shopping experience — such as stores that provide chairs or benches near exits to the parking lot, where we can wait for transportation in any weather. Many of us no longer drive, depending on taxis, friends or jitneys provided by retirement communities. We need to wait indoors where we can see when our ride arrives — or wait comfortably if there's a delay.

Such thoughtful comforts — for handicapped and seniors — encourage us to return in the future. If stores and malls identified these seats for "Elderly and Handicapped," they'd have more repeat business — just for being thoughtful and sensitive.

Store managers need to understand that our hair may be gray — or gone — but we are still very alert, have keen minds and a pocket full of credit cards. We prize our independence, appreciate help when offered, and most of us remember the thoughtful efforts to make us comfortable.

— Claire W. Engle lives in Medford.

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