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Maine used to be a place for people who liked peace and quiet. So, why have retail establishments become so loud and noisy lately?
I know I can't be the only one who finds much of the “music” - pumped from speakers that seem to be everywhere these days - to be distracting, offensive, revolting, more than a tad obnoxious and a rude invasion of what the beautiful people tell me is my “personal space.” When music first appeared on the retail scene it was called Muzak and it was hardly heard at all because it just sort of whined quietly in the background where it belonged. Those early music set-ups featured awful stuff like Andre Kostelanetz and his One Hundred and One Strings playing things like the Beatles Greatest Hits. It was awful to be sure but it was relatively quiet - the way awful music should be.
But in the last few years something has changed in the retail music field and the whiny music of the past has been replaced by shrill music that just sounds very loud and really bad. The music in retail places has not only gotten a lot louder, it's also gotten a lot more jarring. I can't be the only one who has noticed all this. Can I?
Who ever gave retailers the idea that all of a sudden I need the unrelenting sound of jarring, horrific music blasting in my ears at all times in order to have a successful shopping experience in their establishments? Who told retailers that the way to sell a lot of stuff is to assault customers with loud music that's really bad? Who never told them this was wrong?
All this offensive music business came to a head recently when I stopped at a convenience store to fill my gas tank before going to town to shop for a few things. After being approved for a major home-equity loan - giving me the means to pay for the fuel - I began filling my tank and could hardly ignore the loud, jarring music coming from the cheap tinny speakers embedded somewhere in the fuel island roof. The awful sound detracted quite a bit from the quality of this particular gas-pumping experience, and I'll have to be pretty desperate for fuel before I return to this particular place, I can tell you that.
Next, I went into a clothing store where the music was so loud and offensive that I did something I never do, although maybe it's time I did it more often. I sought out a sales clerk and asked if the awful music could be turned down. The clerk said he was sorry but he couldn't do anything about the music because such decisions as music volume came down from corporate headquarters - CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS! What's a customer to do in such a situation except walk out the door and never return?
There was a time - and it wasn't that long ago - when I could walk into the general store here in town and hear clerks going on about one thing or another. Often their talk was normal, healthy small-town gossip about the kinds of things you'd expect to hear in a small-town store. A neighbor had just lost his job or was getting a divorce or was having trouble with one of his kids, you know, the usual things. Some of the talk was soft and barely audible and - without being too obvious - you had to try and move in real close to hear what was being said. Some of the talk was loud, like when someone would yell from the back room about something like Mrs. Nash's grocery order that had to be made up and delivered before 10 o’clock because she was having a bunch of women over for lunch and she didn't want to be doing things at the last minute. It might have been loud but it was a natural loudness that fit the situation. Then, as soon as the yelling was over the store would go back to the quiet that we're used to here in Maine.
It's the kind of quiet we need more of if we want to restore quality to the “retail experience.”
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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