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Department Store…Don't

I worked at my mom’s photography studio in Claremore for six years after college graduation. When the economy tanked, gas prices went through the roof, and I moved 30 miles away, it didn’t seem feasible for me to work there anymore. Innocent that I was, I figured I could get a job, no problem. I had a degree, right? Turned out, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. After days of combing the web and filling out online applications, I attended a job fair. After dressing up in a dorky suit and making small talk with strangers, I fell into a pleasant conversation with the young man working at a booth for a large department store. He liked me, and called me in for an interview that afternoon. At first, I was excited. Having spent my high school years waiting tables (to quote Bobby from “My Boys”, everyone should have to marry ketchup bottles at least once), I had never worked at the mall before, and I was looking forward to my first experience with retail. I like shopping, so how bad could it be?

flamalldill2It started out fun. My first day was spent working in the swimwear department, where I spent hours sizing rounders of teeny bikinis. Being the OCD freak that I am, it was right up my alley. And of course, it was at the end of the season, so everything was on sale. My 25% discount hadn’t kicked in yet, but I still walked away with a ridiculously expensive Ralph Lauren suit. Every day for the next week was spent in a different area, in order to learn the store. My second day was spent in the stockroom of the shoe section. Never having worked on my feet all day (except in the military where I wore comfy combat boots), I was shocked when my high-heeled boots had me crippled by lunchtime. (A lunchtime that I never took, because nobody told me when to go, and I was clueless and too shy to ask.) So of course I spent another absurd amount of money on a pair of flats, which didn’t really help, because by then the blisters had taken over my poor tootsies. By the end of the day, I was starving AND crippled.

After days spent hawking lingerie and junior prom dresses, I was told that I would officially be working in the handbag department. Okay, that sounded cool. Everyone likes purses, right? I was the youngest person in my department by about 25 years, but that was fine. The ladies were all very nice (except for one sales hog drama queen hypochondriac, who shall remain nameless) and friendly to the new kid on the block. I was warned that my manager could be a witch, but I must be charming because she was always nice to me, and even gave me time off when I needed it. Guess that’s what happens when you’re not a sales hog drama queen hypochondriac.

After working there for a while, you get to know the regulars, the people I was always jealous of, because they were out shopping, blowing wads of cash in the middle of a workday. There were the two sisters, who were always very smartly dressed, and actually very nice. One of them used to complain about her botched boob job, because the doctor had made them too big, and she had to order special lingerie. Being that she was about a waist 24, I guess I could see where that would be a problem. There was the women who always dressed in a silver warm-up suit. She came in all the time, but never bought anything, because she always carried the same matching silver bebe bag.

purseThen were the serial returners. There were folks that would spend a fortune, only to return the next day and bring most of it back. One woman in particular, “Sam”, was notorious. She was actually banned from the store’s other location in town because of her return habits. She would come in with a walker (she was younger) and tell us all about some fatal disease that she had. But she always seemed perfectly healthy, and it was fairly obvious that she used the walker only as a shopping cart. She would buy and buy and buy while bags were on sale, then return, then buy more. Apparently she would buy the sale bags, have “purse parties” at her home, then bring back what she couldn’t sell and start the whole scam over again. And you would think we would be excited for such a big sale, but let me tell you how this particular store works.

No, the sales staff isn’t on commission. But every one of them is required to make a sales goal each day. However short you are one day rolls over to the next. So come Saturday, it was a race to the finish. Don’t make your goal repeatedly? You are the winner of a one dollar per hour pay cut. Congratulations. And guess what? If you sell an item and it is returned, that amount is deducted, so you have to make it up. Fair, isn’t it? A part of me can understand the return policy; they don’t want your sister coming in and spending a fortune to help you out, and then return it. But it still seems a bit scandalous.

There is also a problem with theft. This is why I never understood why the bags that cost upward of $800 were on a table at the very far end of the department, where nobody wanted to hang out. None of the bags are tied down, as they are in similar stores. And not one item has a sensor on it. (Unless it’s a ridiculous $99 Ed Hardy tee-shirt in a different department.) The reasoning? The owners don’t want to act as if they don’t trust their customers. So tell me why all employees are required to carry clear purses. Excuse me, “handbags.” And why is it, if an employee purchases an item from any store at the mall, it must be immediately taken upstairs, checked in, sealed with yellow security tape, and picked up only when the employee’s shift is over. Customers can be trusted, but not employees. This is probably why entire racks of Ed Hardy bags were continually missing, and whole tables of Dooney & Bourkes would be boosted and raced out the door to an idling getaway car.

After seven months in the department store world, I was fortunate (I thought so at the time, anyway) to meet the manager of Endless 18*, THE hottest store around. I was offered a management position with a lot more money, a fabulous dress code, and the chance to be surrounded by super cute, super cheap clothes all the time. Plus I got to be a boss, and not a nerdy salesperson dressed in slacks and a sweater. So I bid adieu to the land of the department store, and all of the kind ladies that had befriended me, and the cool manager who turned out not to be a witch at all. I thought when I left I was getting a promotion. I never saw it coming…the descent into retail hell. And that is a story for another day in the very near future.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty.

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