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Heavy is the Crown

It was a year of unfulfilled promise in professional sports. The Angels earned the right to call themselves World Series champs and then rarely played like it. After a heroic run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Mighty Ducks lost Paul Kariya, who bolted for Colorado, and saw their once impenetrable goalie, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, penetrated repeatedly by hard black rubber.

This is why our favorite local sports story this year is that of Jeri Gostanian, who, against overwhelming pressure, stayed true to herself. Jeri, as you'd expect, was surprised and joyful when she found out she was the local winner of a sweepstakes that entitled her to grab as much as she could off the shelves of her local Ace hardware store in two minutes. And by "surprised and joyful" we mean that she was filled with anxiety and guilt—lots and lots of guilt—about getting a lot of stuff for free.

You might think this aversion to all things gratis stems from Jeri's position as a credit manager at a large hotel, but it's more likely the product of "a perfect childhood, where we didn't want a lot, only what you needed."

She's forever cleaning out closets to give away stuff, so the idea of running around grabbing stuff for herself filled her with the kind of dread most people feel when faced with the task of cleaning out a closet, which is why she doesn't have a new Weber grill, ranch-style garden shed or additional landscaping crew. But you want numbers, don't you? How much she get? How much she get?She got 700 bucks worth.

Is that a lot?

Of course it's a lot.

Is it a lot for one of these shopping sprees?

Short answer, no.

[. . .]

Long answer: the average take for the two-minute haul is $5,000, the high being reached by a guy in Maryland who snagged $9,000 worth of stuff. A gentleman with a landscaping business in Florida piled up so much gardening equipment he was able to outfit an additional crew.

Jeri's was not the most meager haul. A lady in Wisconsin got only $400, but, an Ace spokesperson explained, she was elderly and "spent all her time picking out Precious Memories [figurines]."

So, if Jeri didn't want to grab stuff, why did she enter the contest? She didn't. She'd been entered automatically because she's a member of Ace's frequent-shopper club, eschewing the big-box home centers for her local Irvine store.

"I'm very loyal to the small business. I take a lot of pride in keeping business in Irvine. Hardware, dry cleaning, pharmacy, I stay in the area," she said. "Plus, I'm really intimidated by the long aisles" at the big boxes.

Jeri began to warm to the idea of the contest when she found out she'd also won an autographed football from Ace pitchman John Madden. She knew she could give that to her brother. It occurred to her that she could use her dash-and-grab to get things for others, and quickly began to match up who with what.

She met with the manager and walked her way through the store, found out what her friends needed, located those things in the store and then tried to integrate that into her spree choreography. Salesmen suggested routes and shortcuts and pointed out new items; when she asked one where she'd find a plastic tool box, since she was then keeping her tools in a shoe box, a salesman encouraged her to take a whole tool kit. She declined.

"I don't want to take something I don't need," she said.

The rules of the game were simple: she had two minutes to grab anything she could, and all items had to fit into a shopping cart save one large item—a Weber grill, for instance, or a garden shed. The big-ticket item is the first thing most contestants get, but Jeri's first grab was a staple gun for a friend who was upholstering a chair. She got lots of small appliances for friends, though Jeri asked us not to be too specific, because she finds it untoward to recount gift giving. Still, we don't think we're breaking any sacred trust when we tell you that among her items were a squeegee and three irons, one of which was a backup for herself—"I do a lot of ironing."

Though she made plans and walked through the store a few times, when the competition came, Jeri found herself confronted by the physics that governs all sports: time went much faster and she forgot a few things, including a new tea kettle, the one luxury item she wanted for herself. Even so, she felt guilty about all she had taken, and remained in the store after her dash and bought 33 bucks worth of things such as window cleaner and light bulbs because "I just couldn't leave feeling like I'd just taken things."

She didn't buy a tea kettle, but went back the next weekend "to treat myself."

Jeri said it was a lot of fun, a lot more than she would have thought, but, all things considered, she's glad it's over. She, like other local champs, learned that heavy is the crown.

"It's really very stressful," she said. "It's not easy to be a winner."


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