The Big Box Store

box-cartoneOn my way to Home Depot, I drove right past our local building supply store.

I would like to say I don’t know why I did that – but I do.

Our local store had exactly what I needed and its quality could not be beat. Sure, it cost a little more – but you get what you pay for.

My problem is with Lyle, the guy who runs it. Make no mistake, Lyle is unflappably honest and a walking encyclopedia of home improvement knowledge – but he refuses to suffer idiots.

Being an idiot, I have a problem with that.

Lyle’s is not a place for people who do not know what they are doing because it is not a store, rather it is a collection of mammoth pole sheds, all of which are strictly off-limits to the general public. The only thing the customer gets to see is a small lobby ringed by counters.  Across the counters stand a picket fence of catalogs and every ten feet or so, a hole has been cleared through the catalogs.  This is where long lines of mostly professional builders, pay homage to clerks.

Shopping at Lyle’s goes something like this.

No matter which line you choose, you inevitably end up talking to Lyle and he is always on the telephone with someone more important than you.

After sizing you up, he places a large paw over the receiver. “What do you want?” he asks.

“Sheetrock,” you tell him.

Not hiding his exasperation, he asks the obvious, “What kind?”

“White,” you tell him.

He gives you a look that says all his doubts about you have been confirmed.

“John,” he calls out in a tone devoid of mercy, “would you help this guy out?” He then signals for you to move to the last and smallest hole in the catalogs.

There you meet the lowest clerk on Lyle’s totem pole.

“What are you sheet-rocking?” he asks, with genuine interest.

“My garage,” you say.

“Are you doing it yourself or do you have help?” he asks.

Knowing never to question a question at Lyle’s, you tell him, “Just me.”

“Okay,” he says, “you should be able to lift 3/8” feather weight sheet-rock by yourself. How big is your garage?”

After working out the details, he tells you which shipping door to pull around to where a couple of beefy college kids sullenly load your trailer.  You now have what you need but it cost you more in pride than money.

It would be simple and painless – if only Lyle would let you get away with being a moron.  But he doesn’t and it has cost him. Home Depot and Lowe’s have cut into his business forcing him to lay off everyone on his staff capable of empathy.

So now I drive to the Big Box Store twenty miles away.

All of their stuff is right out where you can touch it, not behind a barrier. It’s all well organized, brightly colored and blister packed. It virtually begs to be pulled off the shelf.

The problem is: big-box stuff is made to be sold, not used.

Their lumber is almost always warped and you have to dig under 200 pounds of sheet-rock to find a good piece. On the rare occasion you find something you like, it never lasts as long as you like.

On this trip, I had to give up looking for an odd bracket for a shelf my wife bought at an auction. The bracket had to fit into a diagonal groove. I’d never seen anything like it.

On my way out, I ran into John. He was working as a clerk.

We chatted and he said with sadness that Lyle could no longer keep him on. Now he had to drive twice as far to work for half the wage.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

I told him.

He removed a notepad and a stubby pencil from his shirt pocket and wrote down a string of numbers and letters so cryptic, it could serve as an excellent password.

“Show this to Lyle,” he said, “it’s exactly what you want.”