This post is a salute to all those folks who are working retail this holiday season. I’ve been there. In a past life I held the esteemed position and title of “Department Manager for Dresses, Coats, Suits and the euphemistically called, Special Sizes.” My fiefdom was in a quasi-urban location of a local white-glove department store chain. Back in the olden days, there were lots of little department store chains, and they employed a great many local folks, many of them (euphemistically called) “Senior Ladies.” My “ladies” knew that I’d be there for maybe a year and then another new trainee would take my place so it was in my best interest to listen to their wise teachings. They taught me a lot about how to manage people and took good care of me. So, Midge and Dot, if you ever read this, I’ve never forgotten you. But for the hustling-bustling holidays they would increase the payroll with part-timers, many hoping to parley the Holiday job into a full-time gig (with benefits). These are not jobs for the faint of heart. I’ve cleaned out fitting rooms and found stuff that made me sure the previous occupant mistook this location for a rest room. I’ve taken back coats that were clearly worn for multiple years — each button was different. I’ve rescued “lost” children, and then been cursed out by their mothers when they returned from the fitting room or hair salon.
Can’t lie: learned a lot, but I hated it. I hated the loop of holiday Muzak. I hated working the 12-hour iron shifts six days a week and dealing with both cranky customers and associates. Maybe it was the store I worked in: I had other retail pals who would wax rhapsodic about the great teams they worked with, the encouraging store managers who brought in breakfast for morning meetings or dinner for the late nights. My fellow managers would bust out of there as if the building were on fire and leave the most junior staff to take the last reading and close up the place. The carrot and stick motivation was that if the store made the year’s volume target, we’d get a bonus. You may be surprised to hear this, but the store never quite managed to hit that magic bonus number.
So now I try my hardest NOT to go into any retail establishments (especially department stores) until after January 1. I know the Take-a-Napsters are a compassionate bunch so I direct this to the folks who seem to forget we are all children of the moon and stars when I say, “Come on people, have a heart” when you are pawing over the One-Day Sale Table or waiting on line at the register. The folks toiling are trying to help you — more likely trying to help get you OUT of their store — so they can get on to the other chores they have to do before they can go home to their holiday to-do lists and families who miss them. Civility from both sides of the register is a social lubricant sorely needed all year-long, but especially now.