Braving the sales in my wheelchair

By Simon Sansome

simon-sansome-2I have to say I love Christmas, it is one of the best times of the year and my wife likes to spend spend spend, so it’s also the most expensive time of the year.

The amount of rubbish she buys is incredible, she never notices that I hide a lot of it away somewhere for the following year to give away as Christmas presents.

Last year I made the horrible mistake by going to the Boxing Day Sales. This year will be no different for you, me and the rest of the country when we get bombarded by advertising for beds for sale, sofas and get told it is the best time to buy almost everything. Now I had never been to a Boxing Day Sale before while fully mobile, let alone in a wheelchair. I had seen all the commotion on TV but thought ‘it can’t be that bad’ – oh no, it was a lot worse.

Fenwick, the department store in Leicester, had the best offer, 90 per cent off a bed. Come on, 90 per cent! Who could not resist an offer like that?

We needed a new bed for the spare room and didn’t want to spend a few thousand on a bed and so we thought ‘great, let’s get down there for the boxing day sale.’ So, after watching Mrs Brown’s Boys on Christmas Day we went to bed at a reasonable time and were out the door on Boxing Day by 5am.

Now I have to say, this is where I love my Blue Badge, parking on double yellow lines outside the High Street, great. But then it hit me, my wife didn’t want me to come shopping, she just wanted to take advantage of her disabled husband who can park outside the front doors on the biggest sale of the year. After all I’ve not had the Blue Badge that long, I’ve only been disabled for a few years and my wife is taking advantage of me.

Anyway, it is still very dark, you can just about see some daylight pipping over the top of the surrounding buildings, it is very cold, people have been sleeping out all night to get in the shop. The queue is stretching around the corner and, not being able to see the front door, we joined the back of the queue.

img_0014Then at 7am, standing outside, or in my case sitting in my wheelchair, having been dragged out of bed, cold, and ‘people’ won’t let me sit in the car with a heater as they say I would sacrifice my place in the queue – at last, as if it’s a religious event, the doors open.

The great weight of people rush into the shop and swipe the shelves with their arms, while people outside get anxious as they’re still in the queue and don’t want to miss out on the discounted perfume they will never use or just sell on eBay. But when I roll up to the entrance, Fenwick’s have not thought about disabled people at all – there’s a step to get into the shop and now I’m holding up the anxious queue.

Now people are getting really impatient, especially my wife as there are just 30 beds on offer and we need to get to the third floor, while I can’t get up the first step. So, what does she do? She leaves me and does a runner (for 90per cent off, I can’t blame her!), like Speedy Gonzales, off she goes up the stairs, climbing the stairs like a bear up a tree. But now I have people pushing past me and staff have to rush and go and get a ramp from storage, just for me to get inside the shop. There are people not looking where they’re going – falling on me – four people in less than a minute, so now I’m the safety hazard.

I finally get inside the store to where all the sales stuff is but my wheelchair can’t get around the aisles as Fenwick’s have put in extra aisles so for the next 20 minutes I’m stranded between pots and pans and the tea towel area not being able to move. I manage to get to the lift as at this point I’m thinking ‘it’s going to be quieter upstairs’, but what I have not taken into consideration is how much stuff people have bought in the sales. Each person carrying a minimum of 10 bags each, three people take up the space in the lift, which it says you can fit 16 people in, so I have to wait 10 minutes for a lift. By the time it has taken me to wait for the doors to open, get in the store, work my way through pots and pans and wait for the lift, I could have driven to Eastbourne on the south coast and be sitting in the pub on the pier having a nice pint. Instead I’m trying to get to the 3rd floor of a city centre shop on Boxing Day. I eventually get to the 3rd floor and I see my wife paying for the bed she so wanted.

When she’s paid, she comes over to me and simply says “Ok, I’m done, shall we go home?”

While I look back now and find the whole situation ridiculous and something I would never do again, there is a serious point to all this. People with disabilities have difficulty getting out and about all year round. We also have extra cost to incur to assist with our independence and the one thing most people with disabilities would benefit from would be a sale of household goods, like beds, saucepans, sofas and other items.

But given my experience at Fenwick’s, how can any person with a mobility issue have a chance of getting into the shop and grabbing a bargain? In my experience, it was simply impossible, and shops and services I believe need to take more action so that it is not just the fully abled who can take advantage of the Boxing Day Sales. On a happier note, we did get the bed, my wife managed to get the last one on sale, but there were still 30 people behind her who wanted the discounted bed – I simply wouldn’t have got to the 3rd floor in time if it had been down to me on my own in my wheelchair.

A spokesman for Fenwick said: “Unfortunately ours is one of the oldest department stores in the city, built in 1886 for Joseph Johnston.

“We do all we can to accommodate disabled customers, indeed we have regulars who drive their mobility scooters into the store every day on their way to the restaurant, as there are several entrances into the store without steps.

“We will endeavour to make sure that on Boxing Day we ensure that disabled customers are given priority through the disabled access on Bowling Green Street and Market Street, and hope that any future difficulties are kept to a minimum.”


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