Janesvile store features soothing shopping

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, March 5, 2017

JANESVILLE--It was real quiet in Blain's Farm & Fleet on Sunday morning.

Not quiet as in no customers, but quiet as in chill.

From 9 to 11 a.m., Blain's sponsored a "sensory friendly shopping experience." The event was held in conjuction with Riverfront, the Janesville-based job and service provider for people with disabilities.

Sensory-friendly shopping means no overhead music or paging, slightly lowered lighting, and the volume from displays lowered or turned off.

The store also offered a "quiet room" for people who were overwhelmed, and Riverfront offered training to staff about the kinds of situations they might see. 

The event was designed for people with autism, those who have social anxiety and others for whom the light, sounds and crowds of a normal shopping day are overwhelming, said Susan Powers, Riverfront outreach coordinator.

It wasn't just for the people with disabilities, it's for their families, too, according to a news release from Blain's and Riverfront. For a parent who has a child with disabilities, an ordinary day of shopping can be a challenge.

Powers got the idea for the event after seeing a news story about a store in London that sponsored a similar event at Christmas time.

"It was too close to Christmas to set something up, but I wanted to give it a try," Powers said.

Powers, who used to work at Blain's, thought the company might be willing to participate.

Powers and another Riverfront staff member on Sunday greeted customers at the door with information about the event.

"Some people said they liked it this way," Powers said.

That's understandable. Many people who do not have a disability find background noise of shopping distracting. Think of the noise that fills department stores during the holiday season. Christmas carols; noise from electronics, toys, displays and overhead paging; and the bright lights of decorations and lighting all add up to a lot of stimulus. You don't need an expert to confirm your feeling of being overwhelmed.

Powers said she saw some of her Riverfront clients and their families taking advantage of the opportunity to do some shopping. 

Farm & Fleet Assistant Manager Keith Brown said he hadn't heard any complaints, but a few people said they missed the music.

Might the the store sponsor another such event, possibly at Christmas time?

Brown said the store might be able to work something out to accommodate people who either liked the quiet atmosphere or were helped by it.

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