There’s a hole in my heart the shape of a $7.99 scented candle.
Before quarantine, I’d dedicate a private hour or two of my weekend to quiet contemplation, silently strolling through aisles of discounted decor, polyester and nearly expired artisanal spices. Going to TJ Maxx was, for me, a hobby. And if the laments I’ve seen on the internet over these last two months are any indication, it’s a hobby for thousands of others, as well. I can guarantee that everyone knows, or is even related to, at least one Maxxinista.
TJ Maxx has people hooked because it runs on a premise of bargain scarcity. What you find in there is, allegedly, a steal, the kind of item you might have paid thrice as much for at Macy’s, Sephora or Pottery Barn. The inventory is unpredictable, in both the content itself and its organization. You might go in one day and find dozens of items you like, then have several visits where everything is a miss. You might find an item that seems to be the single version of it in existence. You might find the exact object you’ve been coveting for months.
This is another obvious appeal for the store — it’s like playing the lottery, with far lower stakes. TJ Maxx is also brilliant at telling you that you need things you hadn’t even thought of. You go in to browse some candles, and suddenly realize that you obviously need to coordinate your hand soap with the holidays; that you actually could use a new cutting board; that you’ve really been wanting a new pair of workout leggings, now that you think of it.
The brand has a strong cultural association with women, particularly white ones, so shopping at TJ Maxx could be seen as a typical “Karen” activity. This is ultimately another success for the brand, appealing not only to lower-income people who need to save money but also the staunchly upper-middle-class moms who just love a good deal on Michael Kors. Somehow, despite ultimately being a discount store, TJ Maxx has managed to cross class boundaries.
Early in the quarantine, TJ Maxx and its sister brands (Marshalls, HomeGoods and others) ceased operations entirely. Not only were their physical stores closed, but they’d shut down their online store, fulfillment centers and distribution facilities, too. Unlike many other major retailers, all aspects of the company stopped on March 19th. They continued to provide pay and benefits to all employees until April 11th, when all retail employees were placed on temporary furlough and continued to receive benefits at no cost.
I’m not going to simp for a capitalist corporation, but at the very least, this response appears more worker-friendly than other big box stores. As of May 9th, online operations have resumed with a daily limit on orders — I have regularly typed in their webstore to my browser at noon and been told they’ve reached their daily maximum. Some stores also have begun reopening with various success and safety, and all stores are expected to be open by late June.
There is no official date in sight for when California TJ Maxx stores will return, and whether I will actually shop at them remains even more uncertain. Will it be crowded? Will I feel safe taking an amount of time my boyfriend would consider excruciating to smell each and every candle? Will I even feel safe touching the candles at all?
Browsing the online store fills some of the same urge, but it’s like having a breeze brush against your back when you just want it to be scratched. For me, feeling comfortable in a TJ Maxx again is the ultimate goal post of this pandemic being successfully managed. Only when I can labor over which shade of throw pillow I plan to add to the six others already on my sofa will I truly feel like things are normal again.