Smitten With Mittens

What is three blocks long, has 10,000 eyes and more dollars than sense?

It’s the line that snakes up, down and around Seymour Street, home of the Hudson Bay Company and the Olympic Super Store.

The only thing “super” about this store is the line of Olympic fans waiting to get inside. Seriously, they do have some very nice stuff, and judging from the prices, they are pretty proud of them. But that’s not stopping fans from standing and spending. Cash registers are ringing all around town as local businesses are cashing in on Olympic fever. Welcome to Vancouver, B.C., where the B.C. stands for “Bring Cash.”

The Hudson Bay Company estimates that 15,000 people are passing through the Olympic store every day. That number is likely to rise as the store will be open around the clock, just in case you get the urge to buy a stuffed Quatchi doll at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Two days ago I shot over there with the family to check things out. We had heard that the lines were crazy, but figured that getting there when the doors opened would be a safe bet. Yeah, right. We walked right in the front door, follow the signs and run smack dab into a barricade. The HBC security guard got a pretty good chuckle over the stupid Americans who thought they were going to just wander in with all their red, white and blue and start grabbing things off the rack.

I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he goes to Higbee’s Department Store to hit up Santa for an official Red Ryder BB gun. “No kid, the line ends here, it starts back there.”

“Back there” in our case was three city blocks away.

Normally I steer clear of stores, shops, malls, kiosks, flea markets and what have you. But with requests pouring from as far away as Maine for a pair of those damn red mittens I was left with little choice but to join the insanity.

Every Olympics has its “It” item. In Salt Lake City it was those Roots berets. This time around it’s these little red mittens with the Olympic rings on one side and the Canadian maple leaf sewn into the palm.

Hudson Bay was planning to sell about one million pairs of mittens before and during the Games. At last count they’re closing in on three million pairs, and could probably sell a million more. They placed a long-distance call to China to whip up another million pairs or so.

Thinking I’ll beat the rush, I get up the next morning at 6 o’clock, grab some Tim Horton’s coffee, the morning paper, my iPod and set out on my shopping excursion. The line was fairly reasonable at that ungodly hour, only a half a block long. Of course I got behind two people who feel the need to recite their shopping list.

“I need a hoodie for Aunt Martha, a polo for Uncle Frank and toques for the twins.” Just another reason why the iPod is the greatest invention ever made.

By the time the doors open at 9 a.m., Seymour Street is a mass of people as the line snakes up and down the block. As we slowly make our way inside, the man behind me, who seemed perfectly normal just 10 minutes earlier, is riding my heels and breathing down my neck.

Just inside the front door I find the Holy Grail, an entire display of mittens in all their Olympic redness. Of course they are all children’s sizes. All the adult sizes have been sold out for days. You’re welcome to go to the store in neighboring Richmond and stand in line there.

The only thing more absurd than spending two hours in a line to shop are the prices once you get inside. I know that the Olympic spirit doesn’t come cheap but this is over the top.

Still, not wanting the morning to be a total waste of time, I buy a couple pairs of children’s mittens and a $25 stuffed animal.

Five minutes of shopping bliss later, I’m back outside, smugly walking past the line of potential shoppers with hours of waiting ahead of them, and set off looking for another line to stand in.

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