Retail therapy

For seniors with the time, the patience and the budget, retail shopping – in bricks-and-mortar stores – can be really therapeutic.

A visit to Trader Joe’s, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls might be a typical afternoon’s circuit on the regular Thursday shopping trips for residents of The Ambassador Scarsdale, a senior living community on the Scarsdale / White Plains border. They are discerning shoppers – the orchids at Trader Joe’s are currently a must-buy among the group – and all of them, it seems, have an eye for a bargain. Lord & Taylor in Eastchester was a great favorite before its sad demise. The parking and accessibility made it easy terrain for older people.

“Bloomingdale’s is a popular destination, too” says Beth Olli, director of lifestyle and activities at The Ambassador. “And of course, we go to CVS, because everybody always needs to go to the drugstore.” 

Unlike bridge or Scrabble, or doing that Duolingo course in Russian you’d always promised yourself you’d do on retirement, shopping requires no special aptitude or pre-learned skill. But as a legitimate pastime, involving planning, imagination and possibly thrift, it has no better practitioners than our beloved seniors. They, after all, have the necessary time — shopping, let’s face it, is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace — and they also have the patience.

Still, there are challenges and patience works both ways. Some older people, Olli points out, have issues with dexterity (getting coins out of their purse, for instance) and understanding is often required to have a happy exchange between shopper and cashiers. 

What is certain is that the term “retail therapy” can hold special meaning for seniors, who — with the time on their hands and the means in their pockets — may derive some benefit from shopping beyond the mere acquisition of goods. Just seeing other people in a store and interacting with a sales assistant, no matter how briefly, can be a boon to a senior who may otherwise talk to few people and actually see even fewer in the course of a normal day.

At Atria Rye Brook, one of four Atria senior communities in Westchester County (there are also two in Fairfield County,) the “People Belong Together” tagline informs a whole range of exciting activities, which keep residents engaged, fulfilled and in the moment. And while visits to such diverse venues as Yankee Stadium or the Neuberger Museum of Art — or walking the grounds of the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens at PepsiCo in Purchase — are always popular, shopping as an activity in its own right remains high on the agenda.

Atria schedules thrice-weekly trips in its 14-seat Atria bus to stores like Bloomingdale’s White Plains and Balducci’s, as well as regular visits to CVS, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans, which has a Helping Hands brigade and offers to escort any customer to his or her vehicle. And apart from the scheduled “group” outings, Atria will also drive residents on request to their own medical appointments, say, or their favorites stores, or the hair and nail salon, within a 15-mile radius of each facility.

It’s a setup that actually beats living at home, says Atria’s Community Sales Director Joan Brustman, “unless you happen to have a chef, a caregiver and an activity director.” She might add “chauffeur” and “personal shopper” to that list.

At The Club at Briarcliff Manor, which describes itself as a senior community “built to fit Westchester’s lifestyle and aesthetic,” shopping activities are tailored to match the needs and preferences of its different tiers of residents. That might mean slightly more sophisticated visits to local farmers’ markets, or shopping in upscale stores in New York City for its independent and assisted living residents, with more manageable, less physically demanding, small-group outings for its memory care residents and temporary respite care guests.

Although special store opening hours for seniors that we saw at the start of the pandemic (for example, at Whole Foods) have been largely discontinued, of even greater value might be actual senior discounts at big and not-so-big name stores. Shop at any branch of Kohl’s on a Wednesday and, if you are age 60 or older, you can claim a 15% reduction simply by showing your ID at the check-out. (No irritating coupons to print out, either.) If you’re at least 55 and hold a store account, Walgreen’s offers a 20% discount on in-store merchandise as well as cash rewards, with discount days varying according to the store. And organizations like AARP and AMAC (Association of Mature American Citizens) offer considerable discounts both online and at their brick-and-mortar stores across the board.

By the way, don’t write-off seniors as technophobes just yet. A survey of 1,100 seniors carried out earlier this year by the seniors’ discount online site,, revealed that given a choice, 58% of respondents over 60 were more likely to shop online. And — in a piece of good news for one Jeff Bezos — 94% of these internet shoppers actually preferred to shop on Amazon, beating out the dedicated websites of stores like Home Depot, Target and Costco. Less surprisingly, 62% of seniors state that they plan to avoid stores that look crowded. 

Back at The Ambassador Scarsdale, by contrast, where admittedly the demographic may be somewhat older, they are taking special requests. One resident fancies a trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond; others favor the Christmas Tree Shops, where they can buy inexpensive gifts for their children and grandchildren (and presumably, great-grandchildren.) 

But will our bricks-and-mortar stores survive, or must they inevitably go the way of Lord & Taylor? Well, if seniors have anything to do with it, they will. It is estimated there are 75 million over 65 year olds in the United States, and while inevitably our senior population — with older millennials already approaching 40 — will soon all be fully tech-savvy with online shopping as their norm, you still can’t have a meaningful conversation with a virtual assistant or check the feel of a two-ply cashmere cardigan through a computer screen. 

With age comes wisdom and it may just be that in our busy lives we have forgotten the joy of real shopping. What many folks see as a chore in youth and middle age, may just be, well, a treat in store.

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