June 15, 2011

June 15, 2011

Things I’ve Read: Malled

When I was in college, a number of my fellow students worked at a local outlet mall. The Johnson Creek Premium Outlets, I think they were called. Ah, the premium outlet mall, that incongruous mesh of discounts and prestige. Anyway, though I never heard much about what they did (folding shirts, I think), I knew that an employee discount wasn’t tempting for your humble blogger to leave her cushy clerical job on campus.

However, sometimes you don’t have a choice. As happened to Caitlin Kelly, a journalist/writer who lost her New York Daily News job at age 50, and tried her hand at retail. Specifically, the North Face, that purveyor of hearty youngsters climbing mountains while swathed in fleece.

Because, really, how hard could selling jackets be?

The answer: OHDEARLORD IT’S HARD. Reading just how hard gives me a new appreciation for every (apparently) brainless clerk I encounter, and makes me 2% less likely to wish death upon their houses.

Kelly had a pretty awful time at the North Face. Not so much because of her personal characteristics; one might almost say she was too experienced, too intelligent, too good a communicator for this job. Rather, it was the external factors that did her in: the poorly lit and overcrowded stockroom. The shoppers who treated store employees like slaves. The stale mall air that made her hands chap and bleed. Idiotic corporate policy that kept everyone down.

All this for $9 an hour! Well, minus the $8 it cost to park each day. But still!

Kelly got to know many of her co-workers, despite being twice as old as most of them. While they were an expectedly motley crew, most of them were just trying to eke it out. Go to night school, raise small children, whatever. They hadn’t had life handed to them on a silver platter (or even a plastic one), so they were doing the best they could. You know how I dislike people, yet even I found them sympathetic.

If you’ve worked in retail, perhaps this book will bring back painful memories. I can’t speak to that. For the rest of us (minority we may be), Malled was a peek behind that storeroom curtain. Never again will I ask a Payless employee if they have any size 8s in the back.

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