Is that a blue light back there?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 10, 2001

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"Blue Light Special on aisle 5." Magic words would appear from thin air like a football coach calling from his tower and spur K-Mart shoppers into motion.

Women would charge from every corner of the store to take advantage of "two for the price of one pantyhose," or "a 15-minute markdown in children’s shoes." We would clutch our purses to our bosoms like quarterbacks even as we fantasized telling our neighbor, "I got it on sale for $2.99," all the while knowing SHE had paid full price the day before. When the frenzied rush was over, we would prowl the store, waiting for the next burst of excitement.

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Then, all of a sudden the blue lights were turned off; and we knew not why. New announcements of bargains were dull and uninspired monotones, prompting no shopper to elbow out a competitor, or sending a small child ahead to "get me a place at the counter." We started shopping elsewhere in search of a "personal" announcement of a good deal, but it wasn’t the same. The end of blue light specials may be why K-Mart started losing out to its toughest competitor.

"Flash! I sat straight up in the bed the other morning when the good news came over National Public Radio. After darkness for ten years (I hope the bulbs are still good), K-Mart is bringing back their "blue light specials" and the beckoning beacon will shine again. NPR said K-Mart hopes to capture the curiosity and competitive spirit of generation X shoppers who were dragged by their mothers to those famous flashing blue lights, but didn’t appreciate the magnificence of the moment. K-Mart phased out the marketing ploy after people began to associate it with cheapness, but that was not the case with me. I never thought of it as cheap, but rather

urgent, like the feeling you get in your stomach when you see a blue light flashing in your rear view mirror, but in a totally good way. The butterflies of adventure flutter and your heart screams BARGAIN even as your hand reaches for your credit card. You race across the store wondering what great price lies ahead and how high is the Mt. Everest pile of women you will have to climb to get there.

Webster’s defines adventure as "an undertaking usually involving danger and the unknown." Or, "an exciting or rewarding experience." Also, "an enterprise involving financial risk."

Well, honey, that’s a blue light special and the nearest thing I can liken it to in recent shopping experiences is when I fought through a crowd for the latest Harry Potter book.

Elbows flew, people were cursed, knees skinned and a woman 20 years younger stepped on my hand, but I got it. There was no flashing light to alert me or I would have gotten a better start.

I owe my acquired ability to slip through holes left unplugged by mothers who are not really serious about getting a bargain to blue light specials as my training ground, and to my friend, Pat as my mentor. Pat, a tall skinny dude from Selma, is the first woman I ever saw actually sprint across a parking lot because she just "thought " she saw a blue light inside.

"What is it," I cried, but we didn’t know until we got there. Twisting and turning we made our way to the front of the crowd. We stood there panting among a crowd of 30 sweaty women, but the bargain we sought this hour was not to be.

"Wigs," we harrumphed. But Pat was not discouraged. There will be another one in a few minutes, she said, and so we wandered the store and bought a bunch of other stuff we didn’t need while we looked for "the light."

Fran Sharp is a freelance writer who lives, writes and shops in Alabaster, Alabama. E-mail her at  

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