I thought it would be different than most retail
. I've worked in a department store for about a year when I was in college
, one of those small chains that are now extinct. I liked it there. I wore a smock and a name tag and was expected to help people only when they asked for it.
It was a quilt store on Decatur, a tiny shop selling something I didn't think anyone in New Orleans would need: warm, durable, handmade blankets. The Help Wanted sign seemed like it had been in the window forever, and it was weeks after I applied, weeks after I was thinking they'd call back, that they called me; I'd set my sights on other things by then. It was a cute store, and the elderly black ladies there seemed nice enough, so I gave it a shot. My first day was yesterday.
I once tried working at another store. It was a kite and toy store in the Riverwalk, a mall on the Mississippi River. It was very small, yet we had at least two people working at any given moment. With the quilt store we had six. The whole store was about the size of my apartment and un-air-conditioned. They were telling me all the neat stuff that I found pretty interesting. One of the owner's sons had come up with a design that was a mix of two designs, Card Tricks and Log Cabin, called Milky Way. The owner also had acquired a patent on another design, called the Crazy String. I pick things up pretty quickly, and all the women in their roomy jumpers and bright pants and shirt ensembles were cute and helpful. I really thought I could do it: I could sell quilts and material for quilts. Then the owner came in for the afternoon shift.
The ladies had warned me about the floor. It was tile over concrete. I had already called Carson to bring me over some better suited shoes. There are no stools in the store and we're forbidden to sit down. There is a bench littered with stuffed animals made from old quilts beyond repair and throw pillows, and it taunted me during the entire shift.
Mr. Garrett said that we needed to greet every customer when they crossed the threshold, and mine were muted, lacking air and sound and uttered with a downward glance and folded arms. I felt so useless as other employees followed their customers around like tour guides trying to corral their paying visitors. I was to tell people that came anywhere near the large hanging quilt with the Crazy String design was made by the owner, who was a member of four generations of quilters. I did that, but not all the time. Marcy, a woman who had only started a week ago, would nudge me toward new customers with a "go get em" smile, which made me want to slug her. Then the Dixie band started playing outside.
Since we're not far from Jackson Square and are on a strip of stores a block from Cafe Du Monde, the Dixie band plays the strip on the weekends, stirring up droves of little grandmas sipping beer from cans in brown paper bags into a little sidewalk jig. They were only one door down, so few people wanted to come in, leaving 5 women and 1 man to alternate lunch breaks. Since I had spent my hour walking home and back to change into better clothes and munched on a Hubrig's apple pie and a YooHoo, time was crawling on its back wanting its belly rubbed for me by then. My lower back was pinging in twitches of pain, and with every glance from Mr. Garrett, I felt like a failure. I lasted until about 4 before I had what he calls "a visit."
I don't think I can do this.
(smile) It's your first day. You even got a commission. You just need to give some more time.
No, you see. I don't belong on a sales floor. I can't befriend people. I've tried this before and I'm just not cut out for it. I belong behind desk in front of a computer. That's what I'm good at.
You don't want to finish out the day, even?
My back is killing me. I'm just not able to stand up for hours on end. I'm sorry.
He asked me earlier in the day if I had any computer knowledge, did I know QuickBooks, that sort of thing. Said he might need help with his website for the store, where people can special order things or send in their old quilts to be repaired. He said he would pay me for the day on Tuesday and may call me to help with the books for the store.
I walked home in the heat and rush of the typical Saturday in the Quarter foot traffic, feeling like I'd failed but not at something I considered that big a deal. I simply cannot force myself to badger people to buy things under the false pretenses that I'm doing them a favor by being so pushy and helpful, so convincing. I mean, these quilts are several thousands of dollars and require months of work to make. If someone wants one, I didn't think my convincing was in order, because since it is folk art, folk art lovers would know what they wanted. Usually they do. I'm just not a salesperson. I don't want to survive in retail. I want to avoid it at all costs.