The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Grand Opening (Effects of computer breakdown at supermarket grand opening, Springfield Shop-Rite)
by Emily Pritchard Cary

graphic of page

by Emily Pritchard Cary

One of the grandest of the Grand Openings was abruptly halted on Friday, April
11, 1975, at approximately  4:30 P.M., when an uncooperative component in a
freshly installed Bunker Ramo Electronic Store information System ceased

The resulting pandemonium cast Mike Madonna, manager of the spanking new
Shop-Rite Super Market in Springfield, New jersey, into an unenvied starring
role heretofore played only in recurring nightmares.

This nightmare, peculiar to supermarket managers, is heralded by a vision of the
store crammed with customers,
their shopping carts filled to overflowing in anticipation of the upcoming
weekend. The clerks at the check-out counters are handling the throngs with
customary efficiency. Suddenly, an inexplicable malfunction in the
computer-based registers halts all operations.

Within minutes, chaos prevails. Irate shoppers, each intent on immediate
attention, become restless, then
belligerent, ultimately storming the aisles. The nightmare soars to a climax so
hideous that the store manager
wakens-screaming-in cold terror, fancying himself merely inches from the wrath
of a lynch mob.

What happened when that nightmare slipped across the gossamer barrier which
transformed it into reality?

Let me begin where I began, armed with an empty cart, a wallet wadded with crisp
bills, a lucrative assortment of clipped coupons redeemable only during the
Grand Opening Weekend, and a heart happy in the knowledge that both employees
and mechanical complexities therein would mold my turn around the store into a
memorable event.

"It's bad enough being trapped in a Grand Opening mob, but it's an absolute
crime to be kept prisoner by a broken-down machine."

It was!

Police officers were on hand to direct cars feeding from the highway into the
parking lot which already was jampacked. Inside, a bevy of official caps bobbed
among the milling bodies, helping to steer foot and cart traffic through the

I decided to work systematically, beginning my forage on the far side in fresh
produce. Despite the crowds and
the difficulty in propelling my shopping cart with any semblance of speed, I did
not feel inhibited. Clerks in the delicatessen, seafood, and fresh meats
departments hustled through their chores, servicing each customer with dispatch.
When one customer preceding me down the aisle was momentarily stymied by a
blockade of carts ahead, she mused, "The crush is dreadful today, but it
shouldn't be so bad in a few weeks when things settle down."

Her companion observed the energy of the check-out clerks responding to the rush
of business. "Don't worry,"

she consoled. "Once we reach the counter, they'll whisk us right through!"

Admittedly, the entire process absorbed double the usual time, but much of the
delay could be attributed to
unfamiliarity with the shelf arrangements, the small children underfoot who were
actively in pursuit of
balloon-distributing clowns, and the gaggle of company representatives
proferring product samples at several key intersections.

I rounded the final aisle wealthier by a number of freebees, secure in the
knowledge that the endeavor had
been rewarding.

A cursory glance at the ten check-out counters revealed some delay. I would have
to wait my turn behind at
least six other shoppers with carts piled high. I opted, therefore, for the
nearest slot. As I edged my groaning cart into place, the woman ahead spun
around and glared, fury peppering her countenance. What had I done wrong?

Studying customers in other lines, I realized that all wore venomous
expressions. No longer were the clerks at
the check-out stations herding the orders along with the alacrity and spirit
exhibited earlier. Instead, all ten of them-together with their accompanying
baggers-stood doggedly still, arms folded. A pervading silence further verified
that something was amiss.

Whispers trickled back from the front of the store. As they spread to a steady
murmur, I detected a lethal word flitting from one counter to another: "Strike!"

The word bounced back and forth several times, swelling to a roar like a cyclone
building momentum, An elderly
woman nudged me, ominously, "They've gone on strike!"

I did not know if she spoke the truth, but the mass inactivity up ahead deemed
it a likely possibility.

A man behind me overheard her. "Good God!" he shouted. "Let's get out of here.
There's liable to be violence."

So saying, he grabbed his wife by the elbow and steered her to the door. "But
... but . . . what about our groceries?" she protested. "Our cart is full."

"Forget it," he growled. "There'll be plenty of trouble here in a little while.
We don't want to get involved."

Once outside, he confronted potential customers, alerting them to the situation.
The recipients of his bad tidings froze in their tracks,
stared-disbelieving-through the huge plate glass windows at the motionless mob,
then wheeled about and returned to their cars.


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