During high school, I worked at the Richway Department Store in Roswell, Georgia. For newer generations unfamiliar with the now defunct store, the chain began life as a discount cousin of Rich’s. Imagine a hybrid combining Wal-Mart and Target. Various departments offered hardware, clothing, jewelry, linens, stationary, automotives, electronics, toys, sporting goods, and almost anything else imaginable.
My first job at Richway began before the store opened. I swept floors, crushed boxes, and cleaned debris under the supervision of my 18 year old supervisor named Dave. After the store opened, I worked briefly as a bag boy before transferring to Small Electrics, Stereos and TVs, and Records. (For younger readers under 40, ask your parents what a “record” was.)
When I left for college, my supervisor promised a job would be waiting when I returned. Sure enough, I found myself with gainful employment the Friday after Thanksgiving. I spent the next six weeks of eternity in RETAIL HELL.
EVERYONE ought to work retail during the holidays at least once. The experience provides an education like no other. Retail workers divide the world into two categories: humans and customers. Doctors Jekyll become Misters Hyde when entering a department store. Even a mild-mannered milquetoast can make Attila the Hun look tame after standing in a lengthy line.
During the holidays, we become more of who we are.
The best and worst in people becomes magnified by the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. The same persons who drop $20 in a red Salvation Army kettle will cuss out a minimum wage clerk at the cash register. After wishing complete strangers Merry Christmas at the mall, maddened motorists practice road rage on the highways.
One incident in particular stands out in my memory. On a short-handed Saturday, I was covering three departments while my coworker took a hurried lunch break.
Store policy dictated that customers carry general purchases to the front registers where the lines stretched back to the North Pole. After sharing this information with one pushy customer, he demanded that I ring up his twenty items. While a dozen people clamored for my attention, I completed Ebenezer Scrooge’s transaction.
In hindsight, I suppose I DID place his purchases into the shopping bag with a bit more force than minimally necessary. Okay, so maybe I threw his items into the bag while snarling like a wounded wolf. He objected to my actions and attitude, threatening to file a report with the management. I diplomatically asked him what could they possibly do—make me deal with more morons like him?
Granted, the scene would never make the highlights’ reel for Christian evangelism. An hour later my supervisor pulled me aside to ask what happened. I gave him an unvarnished account of the incident and waited to be fired. Instead, my normally stern supervisor smiled, patted me on the back, and said, “Son, that’s retail!”
Thus God confirmed my call to the ministry.
During the holiday season, we will hear a lot about peace on earth and good will towards all. These are nice sentiments and worthy goals. However, allow me to suggest a more modest start: Be nice to everyone you meet in retail.
I guarantee you that they’re already having a bad day.