The Work of a Retailer
You see Mrs. Benevenudo’s beautiful eyes first—blue, smiling eyes pooled with tears.
“Hello, honey. How are you today?” Her gracious Texas accent and comforting demeanor pull me in every time. But those eyes…
She stops in each week and pulls out a photo, as she always does. “Look here, child, at my handsome grandson.” Whoever waits on her walks out from behind the counter to admire the portrait worn at the edges from frequent handling.
“Jesus must have needed him,” she says, shaking her head slightly. “Died this fall as he was learning to fly. My sweet baby was only 18.”
She leans on us, gripping our arms briefly for strength. Many times I have stood with Mrs. Benevenudo, gazing at her photo, and her eyes, and cried.
Platinum cardholders receive not only free gift-wrap but also abundant attention as we pretty much part the seas when they arrive. We make it a point to know them by name, so I recognized Ms. Smith when she entered the store. We all know Ms. Smith.
As usual, she ignored the fact that I was waiting on someone else and yelled, “I brought that 50 percent coupon with me that you told me I could use today!”
I smiled sweetly and said, “Just a moment, please, while I finish with this customer.”
She disregarded my request and shouted, “I drove clear across town and need you to pull out that pair of diamond and gold ball earrings!” She’d been eyeing them for weeks.
Again, ever so gently, I asked her to hold on just a second as I packaged my current customer’s items. By the time I finished, Ms. Smith was worked up. She whipped out her expired coupon, leaned across the counter and waved it in the air at me. “You promised me I could use this today!”
Having waited on her the night before for 20 minutes after the store closed, I knew this was not the case. I said no such thing. Nobody did. But we cannot say no to any platinum cardholder’s request, so I paged a manager and asked her to ring out this valued customer.
I tried to move on with my day, but Ms. Smith proceeded to raise her voice in front of many customers and my boss. “I don’t want to get you in trouble with your manager,” she exclaimed, “but you told me I could use this today!”
Working in retail as long as I have, I’ve developed a nearly impenetrable “stage presence” that keeps me from losing my cool, but in my mind I couldn’t help but think of Ms. Smith as a thief. She steals in small ways with expired coupons or half-truths. She’ll put a size 16 skirt with a size 12 jacket and smoothly say, “Oh, it was like that on the hanger,” or return items that have obviously been worn.
I was having trouble maintaining my serene smile. My boss must have seen me falter, because she glided up to me and stood close enough for me to smell her Patchouli fragrance.
“Let it go,” she whispered. “She does this to all of us…let it go.”
I turned to my experienced and patient boss, who nodded slightly to reinforce her message. I exhaled, grateful God used her to stop my thoughts from spiraling into resentment. I walked away from the register where my manager rang up Ms. Smith’s diamond and gold ball earrings at 50 percent off, and quietly rearranged some watches on a shelf.
I’ve waited on these customers many times before. They were shopping for jewelry, as they often do, but spending quite a bit longer on the selection. We keep our cases locked, so I had opened them and then hung back as they discussed which pieces to buy.
The wife looked more drawn in than she had in the past: she wore a gray, down coat, which drowned her tiny frame; her face, neck and hands seemed ashen. She always pulls an oxygen cart as she shops in our store alongside her husband, so kind and patient, who habitually runs his fingers through his own slicked-back, black, wavy hair.
This particular evening, he insisted that she buy three necklaces for her sisters.
“We don’t spend on each other like that at Christmas,” she responded in a whispering west-Texas drawl. “No way. My sisters would be so mad if we buy them gifts when they’d have nothing for me.”
“It will be a beautiful thing to remember you by,” he said.
I held my breath.
Our store closed and most customers quietly left. I stayed with the couple as they spent an extra ten minutes selecting the perfect necklace for each sister.