Until I became one.
I used to think retail was the lowest form of ways to earn a living, even though my sister was in retail for many years. She was in fashion, so in my small mindedness, that was acceptable. Of course, the Macy’s counter girls in the NYC of my youth, all dressed up and wearing tons of makeup while spraying you with the newest cologne as you strolled down the aisle, were also a part of the landscape in the world of acceptability I created.
I used to think that they were beneath me because, well, look at where they were working, for God’s sake.
Glorified servants, meant to cater to my every whim.
Fetch this, fetch that, go find another size for me.
I used to think they were uneducated, lost souls who just couldn’t figure out what to do with their lives.
I’m in control, I’m the consumer and after all, I’m the one with the money who pays your salary.
Once again, I was so very, very wrong.
Since I’m still gratefully and gainfully employed in retail, I realized very quickly how hard it is to do this job.
Blessed with good health and stamina, I am still plagued with sore feet and headaches, along with the rest of those who soldier on to please the masses.
I have worked in the medical, legal and finance fields, but I was at my worst when I became a business owner. Having worked as a paralegal alongside attorneys and judges, I felt I had hit the pinnacle of my career when my husband and I opened a manufacturing company. We both worked hard and very quickly benefited from the fruits of our labors.
Although always polite and pleasant, I shudder now when I think about the ways I used to interact with people on the other side of the counter. After all, I didn’t pursue a career in nursing because I didn’t enjoy “waiting on people.”
The women I work with today are more than saintly- they are patient and kind and unflappable. I aspire to be like them in every way. They are students, young mothers, those who work as a second job (as do I now) and retirees. There is even one elegant grand dame who, at age 70+, still comes to the shop dressed in pearls and diamonds, cool and collected in size 6 pumps and silk blouses and tweed skirts. She is the epitome of fashion and elegance, drifting between aisle as wafts of Chanel No.5 permeate my senses to remind me of what is important and what is not.
Shop girls provide a service, yes. But they are also angels on this earth to help mankind feel good about themselves.
We help you pick out gifts to commemorate a graduation, to celebrate a birth, wedding or Bar Mitzvah.
For children, we are a guiding hand to buy their mother a treasured memento for Mother’s Day, or an adult who is taking an Alzheimer parent out to a ‘pretty place.’
So when I come face to face with a customer who reminds me of who I used to be, I smile and work extra hard to make sure they know they are ‘in charge’ ignoring their smugness and superiority. Karma is a bitch as they say, and lately it has kicked me in the ass.
My penance for such thinking and repentance towards those I have short with is that when I work with an older woman who seemingly can’t make up her mind as to what to buy, I pretend she is my mother, gone these past three years.
It’s how I would want her to be treated by a Shop Girl, because no matter what else happens in my life, and however old I grow to be, I will always be grateful to be one.