There’s a good story – call it more of an urban-myth – about Amsterdam’s Red Light District. The story goes that the busiest time, the time when more girls have to be brought in, when the most windows are open for business, is during the Bijenkorf’s Drie Dwaze Dagen. It might be apocryphal, but apparently couples arrive from out-of-town and while the female-half plough their way through the Crazy Days’ shopping, the men go for a “stroll around town.”
Walk around the Bijenkorf during the week before the big three and it’s surprisingly quiet – business as usual – but subdued. There are no special offers, nothing new and hardly any promotions. But there is something happening, it’s as if the ground is being flattened, the pitch being prepared, the field being rolled, in readiness for something… Look into the eyes of the staff and there’s the steely-eyed determinism of soldiers on the eve of battle; the atmosphere within the store crackles like a hurricane is just over the horizon; the air is heavy with expectation.
On the first Wednesday of October the storms are due to hit the Bijenkorf coast and boy will those staff work hard. At peak times there can be three sales a second. That’s three, a second. Even for a store as large as the Bijenkorf, it’s impressive. It would be impressive in London or New York. Those guys will earn their stripes. And so will the shoppers.
Let’s be honest, the Dutch love a bargain. They really love one. Really. Those out-of-towners come in waves from Centraal Station. Tsunamis of bargain-hunters who won’t stop until its time for a cappuccino and apple cake or a mozzarella and pesto Panini. Once refuelled, they’ll be off again, wrestling for the discounted designer underwear and cosmetics.
Obviously it’s not all out-of-towners –us locals don’t want to miss out either. The flop of those sale catalogues on the doormat tempts with a cornucopia of discounts and before you know it you’re in a Kassa queue while the person in front of you buys all the cups in the home-wear department and wants them individually wrapped.
Over the years the Bijenkorf has fluidly gone through many changes and expanded and contracted its operation to meet current trends. In the time that I’ve lived in Amsterdam, it has transitioned from the type of dated-looking department store that you might still find in Paris, or even – whisper it – New York, into a gleaming cathedral of brands, all white tile and airy space and food courts, a reflection of recently being taken under the Selfridges umbrella.
But for the last 30 years the crazy, yellow, days have become a tradition, as much part of Dutch and Amsterdam life as sprinkles on bread and the arrival of the Sint. This year I’m sure they’ll celebrate that thirtieth with even more bargains. Get there early. Spend all day there. Leave weighed down with yellow.
So if anyone’s looking for me at the end of this week, I’ll be in the Bijenkorf, with my catalogue – page corners turned down to mark the real bargains – in hand, fighting for the final… something, hopefully in the right size. And if I survive, I’ll be back there to mop up the remnants that get further discounted over the subsequent weekend. I’m an old campaigner, you see, no need for a stroll round the block for me.