Thursday, September 18, 2008

Open for Business

Santa Monica...Barrington Apartments...middle complex in a row of about 6 apartment buildings...apartment on the bottom level...Right front apartment, I believe...

I am about 8 years old, Kent is about 5...

On the corner of Barrington and something, down the street, is located a grocery store and an adjacent Thrifty Drug Store.

The grocery store became a gold mine for the local kids because of a unique policy for shopping cart returns. For every shopping cart that you brought back to the store you were given a nickel. A nickel was big money at the time. I remember that you could buy a decent candy bar for 5 - 10 cents. The trick was to go to the shopping cart area in the parking lot and then bring the cart into the store as a "returned" shopping cart. The person would ask you if you brought the cart from outside the store lot, and you would look them straight in the eyes and say "Oh, Yes". They would look you over and then give you a nickel. You had to be very sincere - good acting experience. You couldn't do this more than three times in one day. Every once in a while you would actually find a cart on your way to the store and bring that in...much easier than the acting.

This was small potatoes as we graduated to a much more lucrative scheme. The Thrifty Drug Store had a wide variety of model cars, ships and airplances for sale. They were fully stocked. They even had glue and an assortment of paints. I organized the apartment kids into roving bands of shoplifting professionals. The younger ones were tutored by the older, more experienced shop lifters. Lessons were taught in store management observation, product selection, and of course, exit strategies.

You can't just walk into a store, shop lift and then run out of the store. You have to be discreet and not bring any attention to yourself. No looking around before the heist. Just casually inspect the products, maybe pick them up and read the details on the side of the box, and then slip quietly from the scene.

Now mind you this was very organized. When the "products" were procured (Shoplifted) they were taken to the "Store" under our apartment building. To reach the "Store" you had to go down the side of the building to a little rectangle at the ground floor. The "doorway" was a piece of screen which had to be pulled back. You would crawl through the dirt in the foundation of the building for a short while and then to a "room" where the products were displayed. The models were organized by type (Car, Ship, Airplane) in perfect product display order. A "customer" (A local kid) could purchase the model at a greatly reduced price. The glue, paint, etc. was also available. What I don't remember was how the gang was paid. I know money was coming in and business was good. I remember meetings where I would let people know what products were needed as goods were sold - the marching orders.

It didn't take long for the Thrifty Drug people to start to notice that their inventory was shrinking. They were on high alert. Every once in a while someone would get caught. A casualty of doing business.

One day that someone that got caught was me! I thought I had done a good job of making sure the coast was clear! I grabbed a model and was headed out the door, when all of a sudden, the store manager swoops down on me as I exit and grabs me and drags me back into the store. We go to the back room and he interrogates me. What was my name? Where did I live? Had I done this before? Did I know the penalty for shoplifting? Did I want the police to show up? None of these things felt very good.

I was then paraded through the store, with the store manager pushing me along, and as he spotted an employee would tell them that "he caught the ring leader!" They nodded their approval, and I moved along. Eventually he called my parents and they came down to the store. I was very humble and said whatever they wanted me to say - I just wanted to go home. They had no idea about the magnitude of the Shoplifting operation or the "Store" under the apartment building.

There was a final Clearance Sale after that because I was threatened with death if this ever happend again. All items must go! Rock bottom prices!!

Closed for business...

1 comment:

redstarmama said...

I can't believe you didn't parlay this amazing business acumen into a worldwide conglomerate of some sort!