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In An Aging Nation, Making Stores Senior-Friendly

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In An Aging Nation, Making Stores Senior-Friendly

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In An Aging Nation, Making Stores Senior-Friendly

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And retailers are paying special attention to older shoppers. As the population ages, retailers are redesigning their stores to accommodate the needs of baby boomers.

Ashley Milne-Tyte has this report.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: What could be wrong with a fully stocked supermarket with its enticing displays, numerous aisles and gleaming floors? The older we get, just about everything, says retail anthropologist Georganne Bender. Take the floors.

Ms. GEORGANNE BENDER: Retailers love shiny floors, but shiny floors are scary to somebody who's not sure if it's going be, you know, slick footing for them.

MILNE-TYTE: Any spill can make walking treacherous. Then there's getting to the products. Half the population over 65 has some kind of arthritis. A lot of younger people have it too. Reaching and bending get harder.

The National Retail Federation says its members are on the case. But Bender says, so far, there's more talk than action. Drugstore chain CVS has made changes.

Ms. BENDER: They're re-setting their counters, not putting things too high or too low, they're putting carpeting in the store.

MILNE-TYTE: CVS and Walgreens also have magnifiers hanging from shelves so shoppers can read the fine print on packaging. But in New York, at least, some basic things are problematic.

Robert and Ronnie Rubin are retired teachers in their late sixties. They point out some stores have automatic doors, but plenty don't.

Mr. ROBERT RUBIN: You need to be Hercules to open the door.

Ms. RONNIE RUBIN: Robert and I have spent - have more than once have gone over to assist somebody in opening a door because they just couldn't get it open. We're fortunate, we're still healthy enough to be able to do these things.

MILNE-TYTE: But there may come a time when they'll benefit from a store designed with their needs in mind.

Rosemary Bakker of Weill Cornell Medical College is an interior designer and gerontologist. We meet to tour a store the New York City Council has called age-friendly - a Whole Foods Market on Manhattan's Upper West Side. But Bakker notices something age-unfriendly as soon as we push our cart through the door.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ROSEMARY BAKKER (Interior designer; Gerontologist, Weill Cornell Medical College): This music is geared for a much younger audience, and I find it with this very low beat, very distracting. So I want to come in here and shop but there's this drum beat going on and I feel like I'm in the wrong environment.

MILNE-TYTE: She says anyone with cognitive difficulties would find the visual stimuli of the displays, combined with the music, too much to handle. I'd met a 79-year-old across the street who said she avoided the market for that reason. But on other fronts, this Whole Foods does well. It has wide aisles, good lighting and helpful staff. The signs are easy to read.

Bakker turns to the utensils at the salad bar.

Ms. BAKKER: They have nice size handles, here, for me to pick up, so I'm looking to make sure that I can easily grasp things if I might have a little arthritis in my hand.

MILNE-TYTE: On her wish list: carts with built-in seats so weary shoppers can take a rest. Some supermarkets in Europe already use those.

Retail anthropologist Georganne Bender says whatever help stores offer, they need to be subtle. Never make a customer feel old. A&P supermarkets recently started a loyalty program for shoppers over 55.

Ms. BENDER: And they called it a senior discount. Well I'm 55 years old.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BENDER: And there's no way that I'm a senior and I'm the kind of person that, I don't even want your discount if I have to have the senior citizen card.

MILNE-TYTE: But if they think of another name, she might consider it.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte in New York.

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