Rainbow Grocery recently took a collective vote to end its popular coupon day, meaning that this month will be the last month for either a) loading up on wild-crafted seaweed, fancy cookware, expensive bottles of hooch, and other non-perishables like it’s the end of the world and there will never be a chance to buy anything again, or b) avoiding Rainbow like the plague on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays because it looks like the evacuation of Saigon in there and you have better things to do than read “Moby Dick” for half an hour while you wait in line behind an enormous cart filled with bee pollen and beluga lentils.
“The store was making money on coupon days,” writes Sarah, from Rainbow’s public relations committee, in an e-mail exchange with Mission Loc@l. “But there was a non-monetary price to the way it worked.”
In summary: reasons are complicated and various, but the store was so crowded on coupon days that it was at risk of losing old, loyal customers and overwhelming those worker/owners who did not thrive on the nonstop adrenaline of working a crowded store.
There will be other coupons, perhaps; that hasn’t been decided yet. And not to say there aren’t plenty of discounts available already — just that this particular one is on its way out. Originally instituted as an attempt to shift some of the weekend crowds to the middle of the week, it had become its own crowd-generating phenomenon.
What did people buy on coupon day? “The same stuff, but more of it,” says Sarah. Frugality and the recession played a role in boosting customers, but for many, something about coupon day overwhelmed logic. “There was a strange phenomenon,” writes Sarah, “where even though we already offer 20% off of vitamin purchases over $400, people would want to buy ALL the vitamins with their coupon, and end up spending over $400 on them anyway.”
So goodbye to all that. Goodbye to the ethical debates as to when it was acceptable to rip the Rainbow coupons out of the phone book in front of your neighbor’s apartment. Goodbye to the elation that one would feel upon finding a seemingly abandoned phone book, and the disappointment upon discovering that it had already been harvested of all its Rainbow coupons by someone quicker on the uptake. Goodbye to using a tiny piece of paper to justify the purchase of something really, really stupid. Goodbye to the unparalleled and extended opportunities to gaze into the grocery carts of strangers and guess what their homelife must be like, with all that bean curd. Goodbye to overhearing small children whine and beg for seaweed candy for 20 minutes straight, seemingly without having to stop to breathe.
We had a good few years. Coupon day, we will raise a toast to you, in Valhalla.
Many thanks to Rigoberto Hernandez for the reporting he contributed to this article.