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Why people hoard 200 light bulbs, 5 identical pairs of shoes

From candy to light bulbs, sneakers to tampons, certain products eventually go the way of the dodo bird. What can consumers who are hopelessly devoted to them do? A hearty few refuse to give up — instead, they stock up.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

For some, it’s the long-gone Hydrox sandwich cookie. For others, it’s an outmoded trackball mouse. For still others, it’s a discontinued line of L’Oreal makeup.

Plenty of ardent consumers out there love certain products with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Be it a mascara or a cereal or a candy or a highly personal feminine item, the products in question simply cannot be replaced or matched by anything else.

Yet at some point, for some reason, different product lines eventually go the way of the dodo bird. What are hopelessly devoted consumers to do in such dire circumstances? A hearty few tenaciously fight the inevitable by stockpiling — stockpiling as if the end of the world were nigh.

This story was inspired by msnbc.com’s own Phil Zepeda, 26, of New York City. His love for a certain kind of all-black sneaker with black soles and black laces knows no bounds. The love affair began when Zepeda was still in college and started wearing a perfect pair of black Vans — Alphonso model, to be specific.

“I wore them all the time and totally wore them out. I wore the soles out,” said Zepeda, an interactive producer for msnbc.com. “When I just couldn’t wear them anymore, I wanted to buy them again because I liked them so much.”

Alas, it was not to be. During his three-year quest to find the same black shoes, he turned to numerous shoe stores without success. He tried eBay too, but no dice. At one point, in utter desperation, Zepeda caved and bought a pair of all-black sneakers with white rings around the shoelace holes.

“In the store I kind of thought they were OK,” he said. “But I had settled, I’ve come to realize.”

Finally, just before Christmas of 2010, Zepeda struck black gold. He finally found some all-all-black shoes online at Zappos.com. They weren’t Vans — they were Supra brand — but they looked just right.

Zepeda knew what he had to do. Without hesitation, he ordered five pairs.

“I bought all the pairs that they had in my size,” he said. “It’s really funny because I have a small studio apartment and now I’ve got all these boxes in there. But at least I know that I’ve got a simple black shoe for the next few years, and it’s very comforting.”

Tampons, makeup, incandescent bulbs
The fear of losing a favorite product tends to run deep among people who have lost favorite products in the past. It may sound a little bit frivolous, but for a person trying to get along without a tried-and-true item, the loss can be inconvenient and annoying on an ongoing basis.

When o.b. tampons mysteriously disappeared from store shelves late last year, women took to the Internet to scream “bloody hell.” (Yes, that’s a quote.) They also tried eBay on a quest for the product; some eBay users bid up to $76 for three packs, which normally sell for $8.79 a pack.

When the tampons began showing up in stores again, it provoked yet more emotional responses on the Internet and elsewhere. (“Thank God — and goddesses,” one woman told the New York Daily News.)

The o.b. incident is reminiscent of the “Seinfeld” episode about the Today Sponge, which was discontinued in 1994 and remained off the market in the United States for more than 10 years. During that classic episode, Elaine begins rationing her remaining sponges, reserving them only for partners she deems “sponge-worthy.”

On TODAY’s Facebook page, hundreds of viewers shared their strong feelings about their favorite products and vented about items they miss dearly. Discontinued makeup lines prompted some of the most heartfelt Facebook posts — (see sidebar) — and a deep current of discontent surfaced about fluorescent light bulbs. Lots of people don’t like fluorescents, and they’re hoarding incandescent light bulbs just in case they become hard to buy down the road.

Federal laws will prohibit the sale of some incandescent bulbs in the United States starting next year. Incandescents aren’t being banned altogether, but most new bulbs will have to use 25 percent to 30 percent less energy. While some incandescents already meet those standards, production of many traditional incandescent bulbs will be phased out between 2012 and 2014. (People will still be able to buy halogens, a more energy-efficient bulb that emits light similar to an incandescent bulb's.)

These light-bulb developments have gotten the attention of Victoria Salmon, 47, of Glen Allen, Va. She knows what it means to lose a product she loves; she’s still sore over the manner in which Coca-Cola changed to New Coke waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1985. (“It just wasn’t the same,” Salmon recalled of New Coke. “My friends and I definitely tasted the difference.”)

Salmon, a customer service representative at a federal insurance company, likes incandescent bulbs so much that she’s decided not to take any chances. Whenever she has an extra $10, she heads over to Home Depot to buy another 24-pack of incandescents. So far, she’s accumulated a stash of about 200 bulbs.

“It’s not a lot,” she said, “but I keep doing it and I figure I’ve got another year or two, right?”

For the love of chocolate
Mary Stoops’ devotion to a certain kind of Hershey’s chocolate candy — specifically, Hershey-ets, an M&M-type candy that comes only in the colors red and green — dates back to her teen years.

Please find attached a pic of me, my bag 'o candy (woo hoo) and the \"info\" label.

“It was a seasonal thing that came out at Christmas, and I really loved the way the candy tasted,” said Stoops, who is in her early 60s. “Every year I would buy two or three bags and that would hold me over.”

But Hershey’s stopped selling Hershey-ets by the bag in stores more than 10 years ago. Since then, Stoops has been on a quest that has not been diminished by all the ribbing she’s received from her family and friends.

“It became almost like a game,” said Stoops, a technical recruiter who lives in Boulder, Colo. “Some people may have given up, but that’s not me.”

At first, Stoops contacted Hershey’s directly and special-ordered Hershey-ets in 24-pound bags. After a while, Hershey’s stopped making that option available; all Stoops could find were plastic candy canes sold in stores around the holidays with a small number of Hershey-ets inside.

“But that’s just not enough!” Stoops said, laughing.

About seven months ago, though, Stoops’ tenacity was rewarded. She did some sleuth work online and found a private candy dealer that sells Hershey-ets in plain, no-frills plastic bags on eBay. A 10-pound bag costs $49, not including shipping fees; a 5-pound bag costs $28.

“$28 for five pounds of candy! Can you believe I’m doing this?” Stoops said. “But just the aroma from the bag — I know it’s the real thing. I can’t help it, I’m passionate about it!”

Stoops doesn’t have to explain herself to all the consumers who love specific products with great loyalty. Zepeda, the New Yorker who adores all-black sneakers, understands completely.

“In my case, it was kind of like searching for the Holy Grail,” Zepeda said. “My advice is when you find what you’re looking for, get a lot of it. You won’t regret it later.”

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