Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Re-Tale



Here are some stories from my time working at a retail store. And I still cannot believe the first one myself.

I worked the midnight shift. Our store was open 24 hours. I was Authorized Cashier this particular night.

An Authorized Cashier or AC is the cashier who assigns which cashiers will work which lanes to check out customers. The AC also assigns cleaning duties and schedules breaks and lunches so there is some sort of order and the work is evenly distributed.

We had a busy evening but things slowed down after midnight as they usually do. Even so there was suddenly a bit of a rush as several customers were ready to pay and leave. I was helping one of the cashiers by bagging the purchases for her in order to move things faster. Her final two customers were two nice looking young men.

They were buying a vacuum cleaner and trash bags. They said they had a party and there was a lot of clean-up needed. They seemed to be in a jovial mood.

A few days later we saw on the news that a young woman's dead body was found in trash bags dumped somewhere. There were other trash bags there with her and in one of them they found the receipt showing where the vacuum cleaner and trash bags had been purchased. Guess where that was.

A cashier's receipt has so many identifiers on it. There is the time, date, store number, as well as lane number and cashier number. Those things told the police that the items were purchased at our store and which cashier checked them out.

The young men had indeed hosted a party. They slipped a drug into the young woman's drink so that they could rape her. Unfortunately she died.  They decided to try to clear all evidence of her being there but it did not work.

The cashier was called to testify at their trial. They were found guilty and sent to prison.

One of the cashiers did not feel well. I was working in the cash office that night. The AC called me to tell me that he was vomiting into his waste basket and continuing to wait on customers. I told her to send him home. He did not want to leave.

I went out to talk to him. He was violently ill but refused to go home. I had to get the store manager to go out and send him home. Can you believe that one? But it is true.

A woman who worked in another department was called into her manager's office one morning as she was ready to punch out to go home. Apparently she had been coming to work every night and punching in. Then she would leave with one of the men who worked in another department who was going home for the day. She would stay with him all night until it was time for her to punch out for the day.

As was the practice of the store at a time like this she was given a drug test and tested positive for cannaboids (marijuana). She claimed it was because she was in a car with people who were smoking and must have breathed some of it.

She contacted me in my position as union steward to try to keep her employment. I did my best but of course she was out of a job.

Most of the year there would be two people working in the cash office on the midnight shift. Only during the holidays did we have more.

I was working one night with the absolutely sweetest person who worked in the store. She never wants to be unkind to anyone.

We were experiencing some mild allergy-type symptoms. Our eyes were irritated a bit. As the night went on it got worse. I finally called the night store manager to see if there was something in the air of the store that could be causing it.

He sent security in to see if they could find a problem. Nothing. But it kept getting worse.

I called again because by this time our eyes were red and itching. We were both on the verge of allergic tears. They went up on top of the store to see if there was anything wrong with the air conditioning. Nothing. They checked the air ducts. Nothing.

The other woman and I were taking turns leaving for fresh air every so often just to get some relief from whatever was causing the problems. Finally the night store manager came in and said they could not find any cause for the irritation.

When I asked him what we were supposed to do he got testy with me. He said, "I don't know what you want from me! What do you think I can do?"

So I calmly replied, "As a union steward I could ask you if you were willing to leave your employees in a dangerous situation." The other woman looked at the manager with red teary eyes and said sweetly, "Well I think maybe Emma is more uncomfortable than I am." Grrrrrr.

He finally decided to put us in a more comfortable environment even though it was potentially more dangerous. We propped the doors of the office open and used fans to circulate the air. Now we were vulnerable to robbery.

We never did find the problem and it was not like that the next night.

There were few people who were able to work in the cash office. It was a specialized job. So we were a closely knit group. And we delighted on playing pranks on each other.

For Halloween we were decorating the cash office. The woman working with me and I planned all sorts of fun. We took those plastic worm fishing lures from sporting goods and planted them in drawers all over the office.

We had some ghosts from the holiday department. Some of them would make haunting noises when movement activated. Some were rigged to swoop down towards the person opening the door. There were all sorts of fun surprises for the unwary.

As we were gathering supplies the AC came to see what we were doing. He got into the spirit of Halloween and offered to help. Because he occasionally worked in the office we could allow him in.

He went and got a long black robe and a mask with that "Scream" face. Shortly before the day shift came in he would put on his disguise and sit in the walk-in safe to catch the person who counted down the safe in the morning.

The first person in that day was the head of the office. She began her counting of the safe drawer and we all chatted a bit. The AC was sitting silently in the safe. The she began to compliment us on the decorations.

She proceeded then to tell us what a chicken she is. She cannot even go to a haunted house because she is too afraid. I began to frantically find a way to call this whole thing off.

I needed to confer with my co-conspirators and there was no way I could do that. My mind was still racing as she made her way into the safe.

She went in. Nothing happened. No screams, no shrieks, no giggles, nothing. I moved over that way to find out what had happened.

There was an ear-splitting scream as she came running out of the safe. Her clipboard went one way and her pencil went another. She was racing toward me so I braced myself to stop her and calm her down. At the last second she veered to the side and grabbed the coin counting machine for balance.

Once she caught her breath she went on and on about what a good prank it was. Then she threatened to get me good one day. I called the AC and told him he could come out of the safe. He said he would as soon as his legs woke up enough so he could stand. (By the way she never was able to return the favor.)

My least favorite place to work in the store was the service desk. At the service desk we sold stamps, sent faxes, sold money orders, and in the beginning we accepted utility payments. We sorted items that were left throughout the store to be returned to the proper departments. We also processed the dreaded returns.

Most people are good when returning items for a refund. They bring the item in the original packaging with the receipt of purchase. Their identification is ready so we can take care of them quickly.

We need to know the reason for the return. If the item is damaged we will make certain it is not returned to the floor.

Without a receipt, a certificate for store merchandise can be issued under the right circumstances. If we are unsure or if the cash amount is too large we must have approval from a manager.

A woman came in one night and wanted to return a lotion gift set. It contained a bottle of lotion and a bottle of perfume. Each was only half full. I refused the return.

The woman became irate, insisting that I call a manager. I did. Then she began to call me vile names and trying to insult me in any way she could think of. I tried to stay calm because I knew she wanted me to return her anger. When the manager arrived I was still speaking calmly but I was shaking from anger.

The manager noticed and quietly asked me if I was okay. After I said I was she turned to the customer who told her how very rude I was about refusing her return.

The manager handled the whole thing so well. She told the customer that I was doing my job and that I had done the right thing. Then she turned to me and said, "I am going to allow the return but thank you for following the rules." Managers always approved the returns but at least she acknowledged in front of the customer that I was correct. After that I would have done anything for that manager.

You would not believe some of the returns approved by managers. Once we refunded money for a Christmas tree that was obviously from the previous year. The needles were all completely brown. We refunded money for a bicycle that "was a gift" and not needed. Inside the box was a very old bike, the kind that had those little balance springs under the seat. It was completely rusty.

My daughter-in-law refused the return of a vacuum cleaner. It was an older model than was supposed to be in the box not to mention that it was a brand that was no longer being made. Her store manager refunded the money. Then he told her that he was just trying to keep the goodwill of the customer.

At a later meeting the store manager was telling employees that they needed to watch costs. My daughter-in-law, bless her little heart, stood up and said, "One of the ways the costs are so high is the managers giving refunds on merchandise that is either not ours or is no good. As soon as that is stopped then you can talk to us about cutting back on our expenses." Meeting adjourned.

The manager in our toy department was liked by everyone. She was so friendly and had a really nice personality. She treated her employees well. She even made life a little easier for them when she could. For instance, turning in the cash drawer at the end of a shift is time consuming. She often took that task herself.

Imagine our shock when she was fired. It seems that she would help herself to a few dollars from the drawer before it got to the cash office.

Often the security force on duty was all male. If they apprehended a female shoplifter they liked to have a female present to try to prevent any accusations of impropriety. So there were a few of us who they trusted enough to take care of that task.

The suspected shoplifter needed to be searched. Weapons might be concealed and could be a danger to the security people.

Before searching the person we would ask if they had any weapons they wished us to know about. Then we would ask if they had any sharp objects such as needles on their person. Only after negative replies would we then pat them down.

Then we would have to wait until the police arrived. All we had to do was report that we had searched them and found nothing of danger or incriminating on the person. Then we were excused while they readied a trip to jail.

Most of the security personnel were former police officers or officers in training. They knew the laws for surveillance and apprehension. They also had the take down moves if the suspect did not want to be stopped.

Many times there were some very large people who gave a good fight before being subdued. A security person might even end up with a few bruises.

One night there were two huge men who decided to fight. From what I understand there was a lot of rolling around on the sidewalk and a few punches were thrown. I was in the cash office and saw none of it but even employees went out to watch. By the way non-security employees are never allowed to interfere.

Finally one of the men was cuffed. The other was still fighting to get away. Then he bit the security person. And drew blood.

The man was caught. The police took both of them to jail and shoplifting charges as well as various assault charges were filed. The security person went to the hospital. He would have to undergo testing for AIDS for a period of time.

The man who bit him did apologize in court. The security person said, "Apology not accepted."

We often saw the sweet little old lady who came in regularly on our shift to buy food for her cat. She might have been five feet tall and she was of slight build. Her hair was that fly-away gray that so many of us have as we get older.

Most of us felt that she was probably buying the cat food for herself to eat. We felt so protective of her. When security took her into their office we hoped that she had just passed out from hunger and that she had not had a heart attack.

Imagine our shock to learn that she was the front for a large shoplifting ring! She was the brains of the whole thing.

In large stores like the one I worked in there are more emergency situations than a person might think. And the store has codes and procedures for all of them.

For instance in case of a fire you will hear "Code 100 deli department, Code 100 deli department, Code 100 deli department," over the store speakers. It is repeated exactly three times. That sets things in motion.

All department heads and security personnel grab fire extinguishers and go directly to the deli department. Authorized cashiers go directly to the front doors of the store to facilitate traffic if necessary.

The store manager, the head of security, and the cash office each call the fire department. We report that there is a Code 100 in the deli department. After the third call the fire department dispatches fire trucks and personnel. It is all orderly and calmly done.

So one night I was in the cash office when I heard a frightened voice announce a Code 100 for the grocery backroom. He only said it twice but I recognized the voice of the grocery manager and I head the fear in his voice. I called the fire department and explained what had happened. They sent someone out.

The other woman in the office left to use the bathroom. I knew she just wanted to see what was going on. She asked the greeter why he was not headed to the back room with a fire extinguisher. He was certain there had been no emergency call.

Security had gone to the back to see what was happening before calling the fire department. The night store manager was somewhere...

The fire chief came to the front of the store to ask someone to let them into the back of the store. The greeter was still arguing that there was no fire. The store manager was called. She went into high hysterical mode. She took her keys and fumbled her way to the back of the store.

Once there she could not figure out which key opened the doors. She was screaming at everyone to fix it.

Finally one of the security members took the keys and opened the doors.

The Hi-Lo that the grocery manager was operating had caught fire in the motor directly under where he was sitting. He panicked a bit when he issued the emergency call. He was not hurt. The fire sort of put itself out. The fire department made sure everything was safe before leaving.

The fire chief did come up to the front of the store to thank me for making the call. No one else called but they felt that I explained the situation so well that they needed to check it out.

So here is taste of life in retail.

14 comments:

  1. Interesting experiences, Emma.

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    1. Yes they are. Life is never dull around me.

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  2. Enough tales to fill a good book, incredible indeed.

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    1. I am afraid I was a bit long-winded here.

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  3. Wow and now I really know why I never wanted to work retail. You certainly had a lot of experiences, Emma, and amazingly were able to recount and share with us.

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    1. As with anyone who writes about experiences I have chosen some of the most shocking. I did not mention the hundreds of nice, pleasant, ordinary customers. I also did not mention how nice most of the people I worked with were.

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  4. Wow! Working at stores can become an adventure. I have already worked at stores when I was young, and I also have some stories to tell.

    Love this reading.

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    1. I would like to read some of your stories. People are so interesting and when you work in retail you come across some real characters.

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  5. Amazing stories. FYI, so happy to hear you served as a union steward.

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    1. I strongly believe in unions. I do not always agree with some of their goals but they are necessary to protect the rights of working people.

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  6. I am still digesting the first one. :-)

    Greetings from London.

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  7. A lot of good stories here, Emma.

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    1. And all true. It was an interesting place to work.

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