Reminscing about Retail

I've got about four or five ideas swimming around for an entry today. I decided to tell of the reason why retail is the path I've rarely strayed from. Why, you ask? I saw our local, lame ass mall now has a Macy's. (that's another topic I'll cover soon.)

I'd have to say the retail bug started with that first job at Gimbel's, but that's not exactly true. It's all because of the girl scouts. I started selling cookies in the third grade and I was GOOD at it! Really good at it. Somehow, at 8 years old, I'd figured out a sales pitch. Granted the product almost sold itself. It didn't explain why I sold three times as much as fellow troop mates.

Then came high school and choir. Our way of raising money for the end of year banquet was to sell citrus fruit. Again, I had a sales pitch and I kept going. Sophomore and junior years, I was the second place seller, but my senior year, I sold the most. I looked forward to that fruit sale each fall. Senior year? I sprained my ankle badly three days before the fruit truck arrived. That was interesting, delivering fruit on crutches. I don't recommend it.

Once I began college, I needed a job. Dad covered my tuition and books the first year, but the rest was up to me. Since the college was just a short bus ride from Roosevelt Field (and I didn't own a car), it was a no brainer to get a job at the mall.

At the time, Roosevelt Field was one of the top 10 malls in the US in terms of retail selling space. It made sense to seek a job there, but where? I went to the one store that I'd been in the most besides Record World-Gimbel's. Most of my clothes came from there, I was familiar with them. Why not?

In the interim, since they didn't interview on the spot, I went to Record World and World Imports. I was probably one of hundreds who applied to both of those places. The last place I hit actually hired me on the spot.

I was working in a kiosk in the center of the mall, but they didn't have much to offer in the way of opportunity or hours. A week after getting the job, I was called back by Gimbel's to work one night.

What I didn't know, in all those time of shopping there, is that for their Night Sale, they hired day labor, who would bag items and take sensors off clothing to leave those who knew what they were doing to ring on the registers.

4pm, September 13th, 1984 I arrived for my one day shift. After a quick orientation, I was deposited in the Girl's department (a department I still fit in some items at that time, mind you!) to assist Rosewitha. The line was 20 people long and stayed that way most of the night. Rita, as she preferred to be called, was funny and nice and we hit it off quickly when she saw that I was catching on. She added a task, looking up the sales on the printouts to find out what each item was on sale for. Then, I'd look on the markdown pages to get the sale price.

For example, we had Healthtex clothes at 33% off. I'd find the item was indeed part of the sale, then look up 23.00 on the sheets that listed 20%, 25%, 30%, 33%, 40% and 50% off prices for every price point from 1.00 to 100.00. She saw that I enjoyed what I was doing and flagged down the manager (Iris O.) and mentioned that I'd applied for a permanent job and to go find my application. By the end of the night, I had a job in the childrens department and started two weeks later. Bye Bye, job at the candy kiosk!

Gimbels was a closed union shop, so I quickly became a union employee at 3.50 an hour. Wheeeeeeeeee! One of the union's collective bargaining rules required set schedules. I was given a 13.3 hour shift, Tuesdays and Fridays 6:10 to 9:40 and Sunday 11:50 to 6:10. Did I work 13.3 hours a week? I think I only did that the very first week.

Those Night sales? Like the one that got me hired? They happened about every month and we were open from 8am to 12 midnight. In the years I worked for Gimbels, I worked many "Irons" (inspired by the Ironman races), where I'd be there at 8am and still there at midnight, taking down those sale signs!

It was a great job for a college student. I still had time to study, to hang out with my friends and do things. I kept picking up Floater shifts to get more hours. At one point, I expressed the desire for a full time role, but still needed to work around my school schedule. Officially, there was no full time night job in the place, but I had one. I had a set schedule and put in my 37.5 hours each week. Heck, there were times were I rolled in the big bucks, thanks to that collective bargaining. Work six days and you got time and a half-work seven in a week and you got double time. On a Saturday. During Christmas season.

I was a sponge, I wanted to learn, to do, to help. My coworkers were a great bunch of people. If the place still existed, it's possible you would still find me working there. The encouragement I got from my mother hens and some of the managers told me I could be a manager, too. Its easy to do well when you like what you're doing.

It was heaven and hell to work a Night Sale, to have non stop lines and have to look up stuff. Fortunately, I memorized those percentages really quick and didn't have to look up prices. Eventually, I was working every Wednesday night and thus set up for the Thursday Night Sale, so I knew what was on sale and didn't have to look them up. My line moved fast and I would see people move over to my register in toddlers from the shorter (but slower moving line) in another department! It was a game to be fast and I thrived on it.

One game I never won was the close your register race. I was never the quickest in my department. I think the bad wrists kind of impacted me there. In my tenure at the last job, I was far quicker than my fellow managers. I think all those close your register races with Nancy F each night paid off!

I could go on for pages and pages about the job. The cameraderie, the long hours, the inventories that gave me humorous nightmares, and all the knowledge that was packed into that few years there.

The past two weeks have reminded me of my experience at Gimbels. As a new store, we've been given the gift of two whole weeks training together and fostering relationships. It's feeling a lot like the job I walked into back in 1984. That is a very good thing, indeed.


Bonnie said…
I was a championship girl scout cookie seller and owned my own business at the age of 16. I learned that retail (like being a cocktail waitress) is not for me.

And I've been trying to avoid asking you "HOW!?" about your last post because that's all I will eat for the next month.
Kate said…
Ooh, me too, me too! I rocked the Girl Scout cookies, the candy sales, the magazine sales, the fruit sales... Then I didn't end up in retail until we were in Oklahoma and I was THAT BORED (you know, so bored that now I have Russ :D) so I went to the local book/music/video store and applied. Worked there for six weeks - DH offered to buy me an ice cream every night my till balanced. He bought a lot of ice cream. ;) The store had branches in WA, so I transfered when we moved and had the best till average time and balance of the entire store, even my managers. I can alphabetize a book shelf in under ten minutes, and shelve an entire cart in thirty minutes. Man, I love a challenge!
Suzanne said…
Bonnie, I can give you that recipe you know! ;) Your current job sounds like retail without the volume, so I guess all that selling worked. (All selling really is is being a good conversationalist, anyway!)

Kate, that does NOT surprise me that you were Speedy McSpeed on the till cash out! What, the cats didn't occupy all your time?!

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