The story: A woman went shopping in a new department store that had recently opened near her home. As she was admiring the vast display of imported carpets and running a hand over the fabric, she felt a sudden sharp prick in the hand that was holding the bunched material. Thinking the small wound on her hand to have been caused by the bristles of the new carpet, she continued to examine the display. A few moments later, she felt dizzy and faint and collapsed in the carpet department. Judging by her wan color and her difficulty in breathing, the store called an ambulance, fearing that she suffered a heart attack.
Fortunately for the stricken woman, a doctor at the hospital had experience in Asia and recognized her symptoms as having been caused by a poisonous snake indigenous to that part of the world. When employees of the department store cautiously checked the new shipment of imported carpets, they discovered a number of the deadly snakes that had somehow unknowingly been shipped with the merchandise. The woman recovered from the bite and sued the department store for negligence.
A variation of this urban legend has the woman handling some imported baskets that have just arrived at the department store. She screams and drops to the floor. She is rushed to the hospital but is dead upon arrival. The doctors recognize the symptoms of snake bite, and when the employees of the store investigate, they find a deadly poisonous snake coiled at the bottom of the last basket the woman was examining.
Yet a third version of the snakes at the department store has a woman trying on some clothes that have just arrived from an Asian nation. She pulls on a coat and stands before the mirror, evaluating the fit. Deciding against the purchase, she places the coat back on the hanger and returns home. That night, she experiences a strange swelling on her shoulder and begins to feel ill. When her husband takes her to the emergency room, the wound is diagnosed as a bite from an unknown kind of snake. The next day she returns to the store, picks up the same coat that she had tried on the previous evening, and in the presence of the store manager finds a small snake nestled in a shoulder pad.
This urban legend was first circulated in the early 1970s and has continued to be repeated in its several versions. Some believe that the myth was begun as a way of discouraging shoppers from patronizing the large discount department stores that featured merchandise imported from overseas markets.