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Kerry Goes Mattress Shopping

Kerry Goes Mattress Shopping

Earlier this week I told you about a fabulous shopping adventure. 

Today it’s a soul-sucking one.

Kerry goes mattress shopping.

Actually, Kerry went mattress shopping a while ago. (And I don’t know why I’m writing in the third person.)

I didn’t record that miserable experience in my newspaper column - although I was tempted to -  because the Mattresses-R-Us companies were still buying print ads and I never went out of my way to lob grenades at advertisers. 

I’m hoping to someday have a few discreet ads at kerrydougherty.com - to help pay the bills - but I doubt they’ll be from mattress peddlers. Not after today, anyway. 

So here goes:

It was the worst Fourth of July ever.

For reasons that have nothing to do with patriotism or our Founding Fathers, mattresses are cheaper on Independence Day than almost any other day of the year. That alone ticks me off. Drag me from my favorite sandy spot on a sunny day, toss me into a showroom with 200 overpriced mattresses and a salesman in a cheap suit and I’m instantly in a dark mood.

But, hey, we needed a new mattress. Desperately. Ours was older than our kids. 

It was once a top-of-the-line Sealy. It came with an honest-to-goodness box spring, too, not one of those cheesy “foundations” they sell now. But that was in 1984.

Decades later it was worn out and sagging. 

Just like me.

So we decided to hit the mattress sales and treat ourselves to a better night’s sleep.

We kicked off that hot July morning at a fine furniture store. Its selection of mattresses was small, but impressive. They boasted a “masterpiece” collection of luxury bedding and I remember that after stretching out on almost every model I particularly liked the Rembrandt. Or maybe it was the Michelangelo. Or the DaVinci.

Then I saw the price tag.

If memory serves, the mattress and a genuine box spring together came to more than $5,000.

I nearly fainted. Apparently I didn’t disguise my shock very well because the tastefully dressed saleswoman quickly assured me that the store had a payment plan that would let us spread the pain out over a period of years. At a most reasonable rate.

“A mattress payment?” I gasped. 

Mortgage payments. Car payments. Student loan payments.

Those things make sense. It’s worth going into debt to buy a house, a car and to get a decent education. But borrowing thousands of bucks for a freaking mattress?


“What about that one?” I asked, pointing to a lonely looking mattress about 20 feet away.  

“Oh, that might work,” the woman sniffed, “in a guest room.”

As I recall it was more than $1,000. 

We left. Before we did, the saleswoman gave me a pillow.

That would be the happiest moment of the day. 

Clutching my new pillow we headed to Mattress Mile at Hilltop in Virginia Beach. At the time there were at least four mattress chains clustered there. Each promised to match the price of its competitors.


Fact is, none of the stores carried mattresses with the same model name as the joint next door. There was no way to compare prices. 

My brother - a branding expert - once wrote about these peculiar mattress districts:

I don’t know what it’s like in your town. But in mine, mattress stores line the busiest street. Three of them stand within a one-mile radius, and there are a few others nearby. Mattress Warehouse. Mattress Firm. Then there’s a Mattress Outlet. All selling a variety of mattresses…

What the hell? How often are you in the market for a new mattress? And why do you need so many stores right next to each other?

The idea, I’m sure, is akin to car dealerships. If you’re looking for a car, you shop around. So, the thinking goes (I guess), if you’re looking for a mattress, you shop store by store. Great, mattress stores are copying car dealerships. Now that’s a winning model!

Our nest of discount stores is depressing. The chains are interchangeable and there are no free pillows. Instead, the mattress men talk fast, pressure you to buy on the spot and practically block the exits so you can’t leave.

One salesman ordered us to wait while he ran back to a desk from which he produced a wrinkled discount coupon. In a whisper he pretended he wasn’t supposed to offer additional mark downs on top of their “rock-bottom” Fourth of July sales prices, but he liked us. 

I didn’t like him. I wanted to hit him with my pillow.

“Get me out of here,” I growled. “I’m going to the beach,” 

No mattress for us that day. 

A week or so later, we visited the local manufacturer who promises honest pricing and no pressure. Very nice people there. Didn’t find what we wanted.

I also checked online, but decided that it’s one thing to return a pair of shoes. Quite another to send back a mattress.

Eventually, we bought a premium 4-inch foam mattress topper. It instantly turned our Edsel of a mattress into a Honda.

It’s not a Rembrandt or a Michelangelo. But I’m sleeping just fine. Without a monthly mattress payment. 

High School Cafeterias: The Loneliest Places On Earth

High School Cafeterias: The Loneliest Places On Earth

Yep, Pit Bulls. Again.

Yep, Pit Bulls. Again.