INDIGNITY VOL. 3, NO. 61: Retail enters the Great Beyond


INDIGNITY VOL. 3, NO. 61: Retail enters the Great Beyond

I Don't Know Where to Buy Anything Anymore

WHERE DO YOU buy things now, in the spring of 2023, in the consumer paradise of the United States of America? For instance: a pillow. Where do you go to buy a pillow now? Bed Bath & Beyond just went bankrupt and is swiftly liquidating everything. I could have tried to buy a pillow at the Bed Bath & Beyond on Lincoln Square yesterday, but the signs out front made it sound like they were deeper into clearance than that; they were already inviting passersby to get a deal on the store fixtures.

I didn't even need a pillow yesterday, or maybe I did, but I hadn't thought it through. The question is, where will I have the option to buy a pillow, from now on? With enough pillows in stock to look at and poke at, to make sure I'm not getting one of those over-plump hotel pillows, the kind that are so round they wrench your neck? Where is the retail going to be?

It's not a mournful occasion, exactly. Big-box stores were never supposed to be lovable, except that little hipster/design-forward moment Target tried out around the turn of the century, and Bed Bath & Beyond was precisely as non-lovable as its mission required. That was why they sent you the coupons all the time, to give you a reason to want to go to Bed Bath & Beyond—you'd been meaning to buy some stuff, and now you could get it for 20 percent off. It backfired on me, personally. It made me feel like I was getting ripped off if I needed something and I didn't happen to have a coupon handy, and all that made having the coupons feel like work.

But Bed Bath & Beyond did have things, for sale—not to be confused with the things for sale at Linens 'n Things, which I didn't much bother to distinguish from Bed Bath & Beyond when it was also in the mix, holding up one end of a strip mall. Now that I Google it, Linens 'n Things appears to have been brought back from the dead, as a zombie-branded retail website? The banner across the top also features Radio Shack, Pier 1 Imports, and Modell's Sporting Goods, all of which have ceased to exist as physical entities occupying big boxes where you can go buy things.

The New York Times, trying to explain the demise of Bed Bath & Beyond, partly attributed it to structural competitive factors in 21st century retail:

Competitors like Amazon, Target and Walmart were investing in making the online experience better for shoppers, and Bed Bath & Beyond saw its market share dip. Google searches also worked against it because the 20 percent discounts were not factored in online, leading shoppers to believe that retailers like Amazon offered better deals.

But this is simply not true. Amazon is invested in making the online experience much, much worse for shoppers, and the others aren't noticeably better. Has the Times business section tried to buy anything online lately? Last week, we were almost out of dishwasher tabs, because I had been putting off ordering some more, because it's such an impossible ordeal. To try to find major-brand dishwasher tabs on Amazon is to confront head-on, or rather tailgate-on, the truth that the Everything Store is now the world's largest grimy white box truck selling merchandise of shaky provenance out the back on a side street. It's a mess of arbitrage by package size and product subtype—gel tabs, powder tabs, 82-count, 94-count, 117, 125—from mob of fly-by-night vendors, where if you click "Buy It Again" you get a broken link, or a shipping cost jacked up to the price of the item itself.

But where else am I going to buy them? The chain drugstore, where everything is locked away behind plexiglas barriers? The supermarket, which has been hollowed out by private-equity goons?

As always, the striking feature of the contemporary retail landscape is that its failures have almost nothing to do with whether people want to exchange money for products. In lieu of the Times' thoughts about whether Bed Bath & Beyond was nimble enough for the e-commerce age, Bloomberg attributed the company's failure directly to the company itself:

The demise of Bed Bath & Beyond, which was founded in 1971 and grew into one of the country’s largest big-box chains, is not, as some pundits have insisted, an example of the inevitable decline of brick-and-mortar retailers that struggle to compete against Inc. Instead, Bed Bath & Beyond is largely responsible for its own undoing, according to suppliers, analysts and former managers and employees. For nearly a decade, the retailer’s leadership teams made decisions that pushed the company, little by little, toward the brink of financial collapse.

Nobody stopped needing the things Bed Bath & Beyond was originally in the business of selling. My inbox, when I get past a truly unbelievable volume of unread and unnoticed email coupons, tells me that we turned to Bed Bath & Beyond in the last few years to buy:

• a big name-brand humidifier, because the piano tuner told us we needed one.

• an OXO-brand toilet plunger.

• hardwood floor cleaning spray.

• a bathmat.

• an over-the-cabinet-door towel bar

• some closet shelf organizers.

• a shower curtain liner.

• mattress pads.

• a bedside caddy.

• a plastic under-bed shoe storage box.

• a soft-sided under-the-bed storage box.

What a stunningly boring collection of items! I barely even remember that we bought most of these things, except the soft under-the-bed storage box, because I do recall that we ordered a striped one and got one printed with monkeys, which was disappointing but not disappointing enough to mess around with returns. We ordered them and put them into use and forgot where they came from. But now, if we need more stuff like that, we'll need to think about where to find it all over again. If we can find it at all.


New York City, April 23, 2023

★★★ The splashing and gurgling through the night paused briefly when it was time to wake up, then came back. It was still raining lightly when it was time to go out, and the rain jacket was stifling. On the way up out of the subway, past an umbrella abandoned on a stair, it was hard to tell if the rain was lingering on or if everything was just dripping. By late morning it was definitely over, and the air felt cooler. In as long as it took to buy sandwiches and pastries, the sun began breaking through. A cormorant flew low over the Lake, and huge dark carp came gulping to the surface below Bethesda Terrace, amid the swimming turtles. One orange carp was among them, and people exclaimed in wonder and disgust at the size of them all. Slowly, from the murky depths, an immense and grim snapping turtle, green with algae, rose into view. It gobbled some popcorn a toddler had cast on the water, then lashed out at a carp that swam too close to it. Further along the shore, a bride hoisted her skirts on the muddy bank, then cut through a gap in the fencing and clambered over a bench, attended by her groom and photographer, to avoid an impassable puddle. The afternoon oscillated between brilliant sun and thickening clouds, block by block and then hour by hour, but always tilting more toward the brightness.

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 52: Still up for doing a bit.
Listen now (4 min) | The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.

The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of sandwiches from Capital City Recipes, by the Ladies of the First Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, NC, published in 1900, found in the public domain and available at for the delectation of all.


Butter (melted), 1/2 cupful.
Salad Oil , 1 tablespoonful.
Mustard , 1 tablespoonfuls.
Eggs (hard boiled), 2.
White Pepper to taste.
Ham, Tongue, and Chicken.

Chop fine equal quantities of ham, chicken and tongue; mix with the meat and melted butter, salad oil, mustard, yolks of eggs, and pepper; mix thoroughly and spread on thin buttered bread, the crusts of which have been smoothly cut off. This quantity of dressing for about a pound of meat.


Finely chopped peanuts can be moistened with whipped cream and seasoned with salt. This is a simple and delicious filling for sandwiches.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, kindly send a picture to us at

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