Food, Wine & Spirits in St. Louis

Thursday, September 8, 2011 / 10:29 AM

Return of the Great American Shopping Spree, Courtesy of Whole Foods

I am ashamed to admit the formative influence of “Laverne & Shirley” on my tender years, and that useless recollections of many scenes and episodes from the Garry Marshall-created sitcom are still lodged in my brainpan.

Remember when Laverne and Shirley went on a game show and only learned when it was too late that, indeed, they had won a big cash prize, but that the money had been baked into the bottom of a lasagna? Remember when Lenny tried to get the words “Lone Wolf” embroidered on the back of his red jacket, but a mistake left him with the cryptic “One Wolf” instead, so Laverne sewed on one of her famous cursive L’s to (cutely) fix it? And remember when Laverne was celebrated for being the one-millionth customer at Slotnik’s Grocer and the gals got to go on a three-minute shopping spree?

That last one, a riot of physical comedy, started some kind of chain reaction in my mind. What if I were the one-millionth customer at Slotnik’s? What would I throw into my cart? I certainly wouldn’t waste time or cart-space on paper towels or frozen fish sticks, like Laverne and Shirley do. I would map out the store beforehand, and decide what to grab and how much of it; then, I would toss the most expensive and tasty delicacies into my cart, in a pulse-pounding race to make it to the cash register a second before time expired. The spree itself would be as tightly choreographed as the amphibious beach-landing of a military squadron executing a surprise attack.

Over the years the shopping spree has fallen out of favor, but Whole Foods’ Brentwood location is celebrating the store’s tenth anniversary with a month of sales, samplings, cooking classes, concerts, and so on, capped by a $500, ten-minute shopping spree in the store for one lucky winner of a drawing.

You can enter the drawing to win the shopping spree this month at the grocery checkouts. The drawing will be held on Wed., Sept. 28, and the spree will happen at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30.

Whole Foods Marketing Specialist Nichole Carpenter confabbed with Relish on some of the finer points of strategy.

-Unlike Laverne and Shirley’s doomed free-for-all, the Whole Foods shopping spree will take place in a store full of customers, so the lucky winner will have to whip their cart around slow-movers with a modicum of politeness, despite the frenzy of the moment.

-This is complicated further by the fact that, according to Carpenter, the shopper in question will be pursued through the store by a commentator with a microphone, literally saying things like “Hey! She’s in the cheese aisle!” The play-by-play will be heard over the store’s PA system. This is likely to attract onlookers, potentially clogging the spree-shopper’s routes of egress.

-However, there is no real finish line. The shopper does not actually have to make it back to the front of the store when the ten minutes are up, said Carpenter. They will simply be allowed to keep everything in the cart when time expires, and if the items are valued at more than $500, they will be quietly asked to put a few things back on the shelves. Clearly, this is a kinder, gentler shopping spree than the ones that titillated us back in the day.

-You can only select two of any one item, so don’t think you can grab ten of those $50 organic face creams, or a dozen crown roasts. You also can’t grab any booze at all. The complete rules are here.

-No special allowances will be made for the person who decides to wait in line at the cheese counter, the seafood counter, and so on. So if you’ve got your eye on shrimp, for instance, it’s much smarter to grab a pre-packaged bag of it than to take a number and wait for the fishmonger to bag you up a few pounds.

-Because the winner is announced on a Wednesday, and the spree is scheduled for the following Friday, the lucky shopper has plenty of time to map out the store and prepare.

Like the all-American gluttony at the heart of the TV series “Man v. Food,” the shopping spree is about the glory of excess. (Even though, at Whole Foods, you could probably spend $500 in half the allotted time.) The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look around, and just for fun, think about the strategy you would employ if you had a few minutes to take whatever you wanted, on the store’s dime. What would you grab first?"

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