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November 29, 2013

DODD: Ratail workers get no respect

One afternoon when I was working security at Spencer’s Gifts in the Greentree Mall, my manager came back to the stock room with a cut over his eye and blood running down his face. He had an encounter with a customer who had bought a novelty glass at the store. The lady wanted a refund and showed him her receipt.

When my manager asked to see the item she simply opened up a Spencer’s bag containing a pile of broken glass. Ken, my boss, informed her he couldn’t give her a refund for bunch of shattered glass. The lady did not take the news well. She threw the bag of glass at him and ran out of the store cursing at him, hence, hitting him in the eye with a shard of glass.

The novelty glass in question had been sold to her for 99 cents.

I worked in retail for several years around and during my college years. It was a tough gig during the holidays. The Christmas spirit lives usually outside the long lines, short tempers, and crowded mall stores. People who claim to have the spirit of the birth of Jesus can get downright testy at a mall store counter.

During my tenure in the late 70s there were very long hours and few days off from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. In fact, I don’t remember if we had any days off. An eight-hour day back then was considered a half day for me. The overtime pay was pretty welcome but I sure didn’t look forward to that four- to six-week week holiday shopping time.

At least we did get Thanksgiving Day off. This year ended that tradition.  It’s a lot tougher for a working person in retail today. It can’t be long until Christmas Day is no longer sacred as well. Santa will be able to shop right up until the visions of sugar plums dance through his head.

I also view it as just another sign that any respect for the working man or woman is officially over.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been pretty sacrosanct days as a known day off work with the family. I remember one year pre-Cameron when Kim and I drove all over the county on Christmas Day to eat out for our meal. Both our families celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. We found exactly one place open that day. It was a Waffle House.

Frankly I remember our discussion centered on we weren’t really all that unhappy but decided that people who work in restaurants should be at home with the family for Christmas. I guess I didn’t feel guilty enough to refuse to eat the steak and eggs.

I have heard many arguments for and against the change in retail policy on opening Thanksgiving Day. Not everyone has family. Some people spend the holidays alone and depressed. For some it’s just another day. And certainly any religious aspect for people who are not religious on either day holds no appeal.

In a way personally I will not be affected. I will never go shopping on Thanksgiving Day. It’s almost a guarantee that you won’t find me near a mall much during the Christmas shopping season. After my years in retail work I have never really liked going into the shopping areas. It was real hard to get in the Christmas spirit when you deal with grumpy, tired, and rude people between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

There is one universal truth about the holiday season for almost every retail business. If you don’t make it during the last quarter of the year you probably will struggle mightily to stay in business. I am sure now that the last vestige of sanctity regarding Thanksgiving has been breached there will never be a retail free Thanksgiving Day again.

I guess to paraphrase the old line from the baseball movie, “A Field of Dreams,” “If you open the doors, they will shop.”

In the end what this signifies to me is another sign that the culture of America is once again changing from what it once was. We can’t have two days off per year for certain workers. Non-essential check-out clerks and stock persons now join the ranks of hospital workers, police officers and firefighters. You are now essential people on Thanksgiving Day. We can’t survive 24 hours without you.

It’s again proof of our ever changing values and belief system. The days of Andy Griffith’s America are only now to be ever found again in old black and white film. Even old skinflint Ben at the hardware store in Mayberry closed for the holidays.

I wish to finish up simply by sending out my very best wish for everyone in retail to fully enjoy your Christmas Day off this year. It’s only a mater of time before we refer to it in a newspaper ad in the same breath as Brown Thursday, Black Friday, as Green (back) Christmas Day.

And for the next few weeks if you work at the service/exchange counter, make sure you wear goggles to protect your eyes from shoppers full of the Christmas spirit.

Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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