By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
It's 10 p.m. and two weeks from Christmas, and a father and his two young boys are standing before the monster-sized gumball machines at the front of the store. "No, you can't get any of that crap, goddammit," the man says through his teeth. "You haven't even bought your presents yet. You're not gonna have any money left over for that garbage."
A few yards away, a woman is shrieking at a customer-service employee that she can't find the receipt for the pants she wants to return for cash. "Do I look like a size three to you?" she yells. The employee looks at the buxom woman, whose flower-print polyester blouse is bursting at the buttons, and then sighs. "Ma'am," she says patiently, wearing the kind of smile that speaks volumes to everyone but the cause of it. "That is not my policy. It's the store's policy."
Meanwhile, another employee comes rushing up to the desk to make a breathless announcement: "We're out of the Giga Pets again. People are going to freak."
And so another evening of late-night Christmas shopping at Super Kmart begins.
At a time when most other stores of the "general merchandise" category are closing up, the town's three 24-hour Super Kmarts are welcoming a fresh wave of employees, the ones who work the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, the ones who unpack hundreds of boxes and restock the shelves and drink coffee until they start to get the shakes. This particular Super K, on Arapahoe Avenue in Greenwood Village--the others are in Thornton and Lakewood--gets the most overnight traffic of the three, according to night manager Teja Clayborn. "I think it's because we're right off I-25," she says. "It's so centrally located, so we get the late-night types."
From 10 p.m. until midnight, the crowd looks the same as it does earlier in the evening, only a little sleepier. Ten-year-old Evanee Schaeffer is rubbing her eyes and leaning against a display, waiting for her dad to decide if the Talking Water Bowl for pets ("A fun sound alerts you to fill the bowl when it's empty, and a light sensor keeps it from going off at night!") would be a good gift for her older sister, a sophomore at the University of Denver who's "kind of lazy," according to her father, David. "She's in a house with a bunch of other girls, and they have this dog, Brandy, and I'm a little concerned for whether that dog gets taken care of." He decides, though, that the bowl's "fun" sounds (a rooster, a tiger, a cow, a cat) are probably annoying. "Okay, sweetie," he says to Evanee. "Let's go look at the jewelry."
On their way, they stop at a display of pome-los. "Ooh, 89 cents a pound," David says. "What are they?" Evanee rolls her eyes. "They're like grapefruits, Dad," she explains. "Big ones."
You don't see pomelos at many Safeways or King Soopers, and that's just one of the reasons many people buy their groceries at the Super K. Another is the prices. "I think it's a lot cheaper here," says Brett Barnes, who insists on doing all the shopping for himself and his wife, Tracy. "She's a nurse, so I like to go late while she's at work. I can get food, and then if I need a pair of jeans, too, I don't have to get in the car and drive somewhere else."
It's after midnight that things at the Super K start to get interesting. At 1 a.m. the store still has several dozen customers, but as another hour passes, that number dwindles down to a handful. That's when Bob Jones--"That might not be my real name," he confesses--saunters in, weighed down with a serious-looking backpack, hiking boots and the need for a good travel alarm clock. "It has to be lightweight," he says. "But I don't want some cheap job that's not going to wake me up." What his wake-up needs are, "Bob" never reveals, but he does admit that he's from California and on his way to "somewhere." Somewhere warm, it seems, because he asks, "Hey, do you know where the bathing suits are?"
As he's looking, he passes by the Sunbeam Blanket With a Brain. "Whoa, 73 bucks for a blanket?" he muses. "It must be thinking some deep thoughts." He's cracking himself up as he walks off.
But Jared Thomas thinks the blanket might be a good gift for his mom. The nineteen-year-old clean-cut young man is clutching a Bible, a fuzzy green bathrobe and a popcorn popper, all of which are also for his mom. Jared lives in Highlands Ranch, and he's shopping at 2 a.m. because "that's the only time I can get away from my mom," he says, grinning sheepishly. "I told her I was staying over at a friend's house, which I am, but not until after we go to Denny's. He's over in the toy department getting something for his sister."
Night-shift stocker Kay Crabtree appears. "Hey, honey, whatcha lookin' for?" she asks Thomas. "That's a nice robe you got there." He looks at it for a minute. "Do you think blue would be better?" She shakes her head. "Naw, that's beautiful." A mother and grandmother--she watches her one-year-old grandson during the day after putting in a whole night at Kmart and before cleaning houses for a few hours before she returns to the store --Kay says she knows what moms want. "Sweetheart, she'll only care that it came from you, anyway," she adds. "Did you get slippers?"