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The ultimate Olympic challenge: Buying stuff

The line stretches all the way down the block and often beyond. All day, every day, from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. Olympic fans line up, directed through a slow-moving cue by volunteers.

They are not waiting to see the Olympic cauldron, or seeking tickets to events.
They just want to buy stuff.

Never -- well, at least not in the eight Olympics I've covered -- has obtaining official Olympic merchandise been such a monumental undertaking. The main Olympic store in downtown Vancouver remembles a craft market in New Dehli, only a heckuva lot more expensive. The wait can as much as ... well, I don't know for sure, because I twice walked to the store and gave up because the line went down the block and beyond.

(The crowd problem is so acute even organizers are baffled by it though they, in Canadian fashion, seem to view it only as a positive challenge.
"It's absolutely incomprehensible," said Chris Rudge, the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "It's like that all day long until closing time.")

But Friday night after 7 p.m. I saw an opportunity. The line extended only halfway down the block! My wait was a mere 15 minutes!

Once allowed inside, I waded into a roped-off floor of a department store, devoted to Olympic stuff. There were a crush of shoppers and a mass of merchandise, closely spaced. (Picture Macy's women's department with 1,000 coat-wearing, coupon-carrying women in it.)

In short, this was no Wal-mart Supercenter. As of Friday night, I can attest there was plenty of merchandise left; elbowing your way to get what you want was the challenge and, with no offense to organizers, Beijing had much better goods. (Much better.)

Once you make your selections, you then have to get in another line nearly as long as the first. This line snakes around the store from the door to the cash registers.

Once you reach the end of this line -- it actually moved faster than it appeared Friday -- the effect is strange.

You are positively thrilled to pay.

By Amy Shipley  |  February 20, 2010; 7:45 AM ET
Categories:  Vancouver 2010  
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