Everything Must Go
November 8, 2015
In May of 2015 a staple of Ashland disappeared to be replaced by a similar yet unfamiliar entity: Safeway closed and transformed into Haggen. By October Haggen had declared bankruptcy and announced the impending closure of its recently acquired store. By early November multiple individuals holding tall signs advertising a closing sale could be seen in different parts of town, even as far south as by the SOU campus.
On November 8th at a little after 9pm I found myself driving down Siskiyou to experience and photograph the Haggen location as the shelves were becoming increasingly barren. Desirable items such as contraceptives, beer and wine, cheese, and the choicest of frozen foods were already gone leaving empty patches of shelving. The flower shop was being used to store things no longer of use.
Empty spaces were still psychically occupied thanks to nearby signage denoting what had used to occupy that space; one could rather easily infer that an empty block of space amongst a still-robust section of coffee meant a more desirable brand had previously occupied that space. Likewise, signage also would reveal which items the store really wanted to get rid of; meat was only discounted 10% but things like stationaries, ethnic foods, and non-perishables were more heavily discounted.
Pretty soon my aimless wandering around the store became an investigation of societal valuation; that is, I began a study of what items were long gone (items of more value) and what caches of items still remained unwanted. Some groupings seemed organizationally illogical for any other reason but to fill space; other groupings were made up of the obvious lone outliers, neglected by the desires of the masses and grouped together in a final huddle—just waiting for the impulsiveness of some passerby to finally realize the inevitable.
Sprinkled throughout the store were items that would probably not experience one last ride to yet another shelf to wait for eventual consumption; no, these items were close to or at their expiration date and most likely destined for the landfill. Ironic that the final resting place for these objects was dictated not by the whims of human appetite but rather for its distinct distaste for items which are deemed inedible by a date on a calendar.
Among it all was occasional humor . . .
. . . and interesting patterns to behold . . .
. . . and plenty of words to read!
Towards the end of my time there I was approached by a Haggen employee and questioned about my activities—apparently "a number of people" had already complained about having their photo taken and he needed to request I cease photographing anyone. At the time I thought this funny because the only thing remotely close to a living being that I photographed was "Hilda the friendly Cow," whose name was " . . . chosen by local Ashland shoppers." I would like to think that Hilda was not offended by my photographing her.
When I walked into Haggen I had no idea what to expect. As noted earlier, the new and unusual presence of numerous sign holders on street corners around Ashland had already caught my attention and piqued my interest—although this form of human advertising is common in other communities which I have lived in or visited, one doesn't get to experience it all too often here. The words "everything must go" usually have the effect of whipping people up into a frenzy—with such steep discounts, you're really losing money if you don't spend money, right?
As I strolled down the partially empty aisles I realized that I held no excitement for slight discounts on food items which had already been picked through—obviously the "everything must go" advertising had done its job. However, rather than look around for crab at 10% off or mac and cheese for less than two quarters, I found myself looking for good deals on interesting and uncommon scenarios to photograph—after all, when else would I have such access to an incredible stock of wholly odd and visually striking potentialities in one place?
Thus, the sale for me was less about the items for sale and more about the "sale" of distinctly bizarre sights—sights that certainly won't be in such ready supply again in the near future. In a way, then, as the food items were gathered up from the shelves they opened up spatial relationships that could not have existed without their absence. And just like the "deals" on food, if I were to go back today in search of more photographic opportunities I likely wouldn't find the same selection as last night—those deals are sufficiently picked through. Instead I am content to have experienced the space and its empty spaces, the interesting emergent forms of semiotics vis a vis signage and grouping, occupied space and empty space, monetary incentives and intentional advertising. Plus I spent $15.61 to "save" $6.23.
Safeway, I'll miss you—you were such a big part of my young life. I remember countless trips amongst your shelves with my grandfather as a young boy—pushing the cart and carrying bags, watching how he would carefully select items for which he had clipped coupons for.
Haggen . . . uhh. Err. I never really knew you save for this one visit. Thanks for all the photos!