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BACK-TO-SCHOOL Not a student? Dig in anyway!



Published: Mon, August 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



This stuff isn't just for the locker, the desk or the dorm; it's also useful for the home.

By LISA GUTIERREZ

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Just because you haven't gone "back to school" for a few years doesn't mean you can't shop the sales.

For yourself.

Go on. Take a trip down one of those aisles. Ignore the Dora the Explorer lunch sacks and kindergarten scissors. A lot of the other gear is just too cool for just school.

Why should kids have all the fun?

Grab one of those nifty collapsible lunch sacks that fold flat into a circle; we saw them at Osco. Scoop up neon-colored storage bins and all that unbreakable melamine dinnerware marketed to dorm-dwellers. (Think of them as picnic plates for next summer.)

If there are any left, snatch up one of the hottest back-to-school items this year: a high-tech backpack with built-in earphones and volume control that connect to an MP3 player. And we love, love, love tiny lava lamp night lights ($7.99) at Bed Bath & amp; Beyond.

One store calls its school stuff "groovy and affordable" decor.

"It's one of the biggest shopping periods for kids, picking all the cool stuff they want to put in their backpacks," says Mike Finn, a spokesman for Sharpie and Paper Mate, based in Oak Brook, Ill. "But what you find as well, parents are looking for themselves, too."

And don't the pen makers know it. Several of their back-to-school products have crossover appeal. Consider the new Sharpie Mini, a pint-sized permanent marker about half the length of a traditional one. "And it has a clip on it, so it can go in a backpack or Mom and Dad can put it on a keychain," Finn says.

And won't the school nurse want one of the new Paper Mate FlexGrip Elites with anti bacterial protection built into the barrel?

Not just for kids

The school aisles at the office-supply stores are teeming with grown-up goodies. Some we spied and covet: expanding plastic document files in fashionable hot pink and baby blue; spiral-bound journals with covers decorated in sophisticated tiger stripes and magnetized locker accessories that could just as easily hang on a filing cabinet.

A round of locker darts at lunch, boss?

If you've reached that age where you can't ever remember your ZIP code, Staples has a school lock you might want to try on your gym locker. The combination on the Wordlock ($5.98) is made with letters, not numbers.

Retailers that sell home stuff, from J.C. Penney and Kmart to Pier 1, cater to the college crowd in August. Equip your space! Equip your dorm!

We say equip your Cape Cod. Take those metal storage bins with the school-locker slats ($9.99 to $19.99, Bed Bath & amp; Beyond) and line them up on a bathroom shelf to hold folded hand towels and soaps.

Your kitchen would love a mirrored memo board ($14.99, Target), and your tired ol' closet is salivating over neon-colored pop-up clothes hampers and over-the-door clothes racks in lime green.

Need help controlling your CD collection? You'll find metallic mesh baskets, square storage cubes with magnetized sides and multi media towers with candy-colored translucent shelves in the dorm sections.

It's a very Brady school year. Retro '70s patterns -- circles in circles, rounded squares, stripes -- have sprouted on bulletin boards to hanging lamps.

Pick a color scheme. Stores like Pier 1, Target and Bed Bath & amp; Beyond sell collections of color-coordinated everything, from sheets to dry-erase boards. But remember. Matchy-matchy might work for teens, but grown-ups know not to go there. Right?

Turquoise is teacher's pet this season, with Pier 1 weaving it into a very adult palette with burnt orange, gold and maroon on candles, pillows and rugs.

For alumni out there, this is the time of year when stores gather all their college-motif stuff into one convenient section. Just be kind to the freshmen as you elbow them out of the way to grab that KU shower curtain or MU trash can.

After making the rounds on a recent morning, sidling down aisles clogged with harried moms and whiny kids -- "I want this notebook!" -- here's some advice.

Shop in the evening after the school kids have gone to bed.




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