‘Tis the season of retail hell. Whether you like it or not, you will most likely find yourself shopping for holiday necessities such as food, presents, or party supplies in the upcoming months. Although almost everything imaginable is available for sale online, there are a few things that are better bought in person. This season always reminds me of my first few retail jobs when I worked through the holidays. A few seasons I worked in high volume malls and had the opportunity to assist all walks of life. Rude, drunk, impatient, mean, gross — I truly saw it all. These epic stories come from the droves of customers I encountered. Some were cool, some were strange, and some were outright creepy. I have highlighted a few of my most memorable stories below…
I once worked in a small boutique in Beverly Hills. One day a couple walked in and told me they were looking for a black dress. At first glance they were a seemingly normal couple, but once we started conversing I detected something was off. I wasn’t sure if they were devising a plan to steal or if they were just strange. I noticed they both had on black nail polish and eyeliner. Not too weird for LA in the ’90s, but it did stick out to me. Then, Funeral Francis opened her mouth to release what sounded like a witch’s cackle and I saw actual fangs. Two very long bright white fangs. I pretended not to notice and moved on with small talk and began asking if she needed the dress for any particular reason. That’s when things got creepy. She looked over at her boyfriend and said, “for a funeral,” and released another cackle. But what freaked me out the most was his response of “…that’s about to happen.” Uberly creeped out by them, I walked away and told my coworker. We both stared from afar while they decided which funeral dress to buy. I quickly processed the transaction and they left the store. Luckily I never saw them again, but I watched my back for a good six months after this encounter.
I was working in a cute store in the southern part of Los Angeles. This store carried exclusive designer goods and was located a cool 10 minutes from the ocean. I also loved the clientele for the most part. One evening, right before closing, a drunk gal came in. We’ll call her Drunk Debra. She came in and hastily selected a few high ticket items to purchase. My colleague processed the transaction while I helped wrap up the items when her card was declined. This is something you see a lot in retail so my colleague knew how to handle it and kindly asked her for another form of payment. Drunk Debra flipped out. She demanded we process it again, and again, and yet again. We did, and decline, decline, decline. She was furious and screamed something about her father being “worth millions” and that it was impossible the card wasn’t good. Then she started to accuse my colleague of intentionally making the card decline, waving her finger around screaming nonsense. Weird accusation, since employees there worked for commission. Anywho, she was pissed as all hell, but then she whipped out her checkbook to pay. After she scribbled in the details, we politely accepted it and requested to see her driver’s license, which is standard procedure. All hell broke loose after that. She screamed that she didn’t have it because the police took it away when she got her DUI. Uh, hmm, okay. Made perfect sense.
After another ear piercing tirade, we had enough and told her she needed to leave. By this time, it was a good 20 minutes after the store officially closed. My colleague walked her to the front door to lock it once she got outside, but once there Drunk Debra got in her face and threatened to “kick her ass” in the parking lot. Thankfully she then exited and we locked the door as we watched her stumble away. Shortly thereafter we walked to our cars together and got home unscathed. Lucky for Drunk Debra, social media didn’t exist yet. I could see this one going viral.
Foot Licker Larry
After years of working in retail and learning the ropes, I eventually opened my own shoe store in the midwest. A few months in, we were in search of a store manager. We posted a sign near the mall entrance and a very eager man promptly came in to apply. At first glance, the enthusiastic candidate appeared to be fairly professional, although a bit eccentric and excitable too. We reviewed his credentials and decided to give him a shot. Upon being hired, he asked my partner and I to follow him to the parking lot to take a look at something in his car. We all walked outside and with a grin the size of Texas, he proudly pointed to the back of his car which had a scrolling LED window sign with the name of our store in bright red lights. I thought to myself, OMG, and I wasn’t sure if I should be frightened or flattered. I should have been frightened.
A few weeks into his employment we had a group of customers come in and ask to speak to me and my partner. We stepped outside and the ladies began to tell us that our new manager, who we will henceforth call Foot Licker Larry, had a foot fetish and licked their feet while they were trying on shoes. Yes, you read that correctly: he LICKED my customers’ feet! We were speechless. He was off this particular day so we waited until his next shift to confront him.
The following day he was scheduled to open the store, so we promptly came in 10 minutes after. We found all the lights on, but it was quiet and empty and Foot Licker Larry was nowhere to be found. We finally opened a backroom door to find him sipping off a bottle Cisco. If you remember this ’90s version of a souped-up wine cooler, it was referred to as “liquid crack” because it had 20% alcohol. This quickly earned it quite the reputation, and a warning from the surgeon general too. Needless to say, he was smashed. And it was only about 10:15 am! Slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and unable to stand without stumbling. Not that this justifies his nasty foot licking habit, but I am assuming at least he was drunk when he touched random folks’ feet. Foot Licker Larry was terminated on the spot and back we went in search of a new manager.
‘Tis The Season… of Underappreciated Work
This holiday season when you venture out to grab a few gifts or get food for the family gathering, remember your manners and please treat the hardworking retail folks with kindness and respect. Unlike restaurant industry, retail establishments haven’t adopted the tip jar convention yet. They deserve one! The tip expectation at the counter service restaurants especially bothers me, grrrr. My favorite (insert sarcastic eye roll here) example has to be when the counter service people yell out your assigned number when your food is ready, and actually expect a tip for the yell. Um, sorry pal, but I never received a tip for repackaging and restacking countless pairs of shoes. Or staying until 1:00 am folding tunics after countless people would pull one from the bottom, destroying my perfect stack. Not even one red cent when I had to clean up bodily functions from the fitting room floor — which I still believe was left by a grown-ass adult! Barf! From my experience working with the public, we sure did deserve a tip. Oh the joys of retail…
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