East Meets West: Retail Blues

I’ve had many jobs in my day, all customer service; and shockingly, I still really like people. From the fitness industry, to hospitality, I’ve never crossed the threshold into fast food, bakers or baristas. It takes a special type of batshit person with heaps of patience and/or a special relationship with mornings that I don’t have. Speaking of thresholds not to be crossed- never again will I do retail.

Your girl likes fashion. I had a subscription to InStyle for years. I can accessorize like a boss. Believe me when I say there’s NOTHING fashionable about people going bananas over sale pieces, chirping about return policies when they’re clearly in the wrong or treating employees inhumanly because a customer’s stress level is through the roof. Very anti-vogue.  

I’ve got oodles of stories of being berated or marveling at peoples deep-rooted ignorance or selfishness, but there are two events that can pinpoint as my Waterloo to which Stina did surrender: Italian Day in Vancouver and Midnight Madness in St. John’s.

Every June, for one Sunday a month, Commercial Drive in East Vancouver, the area known as Little Italy, metaphorically drinks a lot of espresso and is amped up. Italian Day is a 14 ish block stretch running north to south on The Drive, closed to vehicles allowing people to spill into the street to enjoy food, music, sunburns (weather permitting) and shopping. A big ole street party.

That is unless you work on The Drive, then it’s a big ole nightmare. I’ve survived four Italian Days, that’s what you get for having three different jobs on the Drive. Even writing this, thinking about the next one, I cringe and have already started writing an appeal to my boss requesting it off.

What’s so bad about a street party? Parties take a hell of a lot to plan and execute, and this party boasts more than 200, 000 in attendance.

My inaugural Italian Day took place when I worked at a beautiful boutique. When you needed a pretty cocktail dress for a bridal shower or New Years, it was THE place. I was able to flounce through the aisle in long skirts and heals, and developed a penchant for floral and helped women create the character and emotion they wanted to inhabit for their event. I was damn good at it.

All set up on the Drive for Italian Day

All set up on the Drive for Italian Day

Italian Day, however, there were no heals or floral; the uniform was a neon pink shirt, to indicate I was staff and I was coated in sunscreen. Weeks, dare I say, months, of planning go into this day; hiring staff, organizing product and pricing, obtaining permits for the outdoor tent. The boutique is a locally owned and operated endeavor (Shop local!) so there’s no how-to manual. From 12-6, the throngs descend relentlessly and you have to be diligently looking for thieves, helpful in finding sizes and taking payment and again, applying that sunscreen. It’s all hands on deck, with no scheduled breaks, although my boss prepared a beautiful charcuterie board to snack on when you just needed to not people for a minute. Customers forget how to human at times, thinking that their five dollar purchase warrants yelling in your face. Somehow, the sun sets and you’re rewarded with a burn despite all the sunscreen.

Prior to moving to Newfoundland, I worked in retail for about four minutes. I ended up being an assistant manager at American Eagle at the Avalon Mall when I moved to the Rock. I was settling in, got the grove of the place and the people (senior staff was adjusting to taking orders from a newbie, amiright Kris?) the next hurdle: Midnight Madness.

Midnight Madness occurs about a week after Halloween; just before the Remembrance Day long weekend. The mall opens at 8 AM (ewww) and goes until well, midnight. What’s so deeply maddening (haha) about the entire Midnight Madness process is that it’s only the beginning; there’s still two more months of retail bullshit that will only ramp up more and more (The movie Ground Hog Day got it wrong: working retail for Christmas day in day out is the repetitive holiday. I kid you not, on one of my final shifts before a Christmas, my saturation point for people long ago reached, I plunked myself at the table containing those damn long-sleeved waffle t-shirts and folded and folded for hours. Never making any headway as it was constantly being torn apart).

Even the Happy Tree is exhausted by Christmas in the mall.

Even the Happy Tree is exhausted by Christmas in the mall.

The days prior to the event are INTENSE. Considering there is only one American Eagle in the province (RIP Village AE), you had to be PREPARED. The stockroom was meticulously packed to the gills- daily, dozens of boxes of product are shipped in, labeled, folded, and organized. Seasonal hires are secured and trained at break-neck speed. The schedule is scrupulously created. This was a well-oiled machine. Store 968 has this down to an art and it paid off in dividends. This is the little store that could; astronomical sales in one day, during the Christmas season, we were the number one store in the country.

Midnight Madness was relentless. I can’t even venture a guess as to how many customers came in, how many times Mariah sang she wanted me for Christmas. Thinking back, emotionally, it felt like confetti constantly falling, no rest, all excitement and chaos. Who needs a cocktail?

There was however, tinsel fashioned into a crown/halo situation adorned on my head that certainly made the day more manageable, and me more angelic. This would make me “that girl with the crown” for many future events.

Somehow the day ended; the store was finally free of customers, we recovered the shambled racks at a breakneck pace and rolled over to the mall restaurant, Fog City, and got rip-roaring drunk.

Today I received a screenshot of a Facebook memory from my editor “Midnight Madness phone calls warm me heart”. There’s something special about friends calling you. drunk as skunks, knowing how hard they worked, that they’re proud of a job well done, or that they’re just, well, done. I don’t miss Midnight Madness, but damn, I miss those people.