True Story: I’ve had excellent blogs planned out of the last two weeks, written in advance on scraps of paper…and then put through the washing machine. It’s retail Christmas, and I don’t have time to check my pockets, apparently.
I remember the first time I had to work on Christmas Eve. It was 1998, I worked at the Egmondville Country Market, we closed at 6PM, and EVERY PERSON IN THE TOWNSHIP seemed to come in to buy something. This was unusual because, with the exception of Summer Ice Cream Sundays*, the store was usually very quiet. By the time the owner came in and sent me home for dinner (30 minutes early), I was kind of in awe. Until that day, I don’t think I’d ever left the house on Christmas Eve, at least before dinner, and CERTAINLY not to go shopping.
Ah, the innocence of youth.
Since that time, I’ve worked a lot of Christmas Eves. Heck, since once of my jobs was at a nursing home, I’ve worked a lot of Christmas DAYS. But there’s just something about retail Christmas that really gets me excited. Or sad. But mostly excited.
I am what might be called the opposite of a cynical person. When I worked at the Toy Cabal, and one of the customer service people told me that I would come to hate Christmas, I looked her right in the eye and I said “That will never happen.” They laughed at me, but I stuck to my guns. I weathered swear words** and physical threats***, and I focused on the little kids who had drawn Christmas lists (Grandparent: Do you have any idea what this is? Me: *squints* I think that’s a picture of Iron Man. Right this way!), the grown-ups who are SO HAPPY when you find what they’re looking for, and the kids who are old enough to think they’re over it, but really, really aren’t.
My favourite Christmases, though, are the ones I’ve spent at the Book Cabal. There are so many people and so many things, and so much happening, and every shift is a rush. I’ve had days where a customer called in to put a book on hold, told me they’d be right over to pick it up, and then beat me to the front of the store, because I’ve been stopped by so many other people. I’ve told the same joke fifteen times in a row, gotten uproarious laughs each time, and sent people out the door smiling. I’ve danced with little kids, conspired with grown-ups, wrapped a million oddly shaped boxes, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
There’s a dark side to retail Christmas, of course. There are always going to be people who are stressed and take it out on the unfortunate, minimum wage kid who happens to be cramming in one shift between final exams. And it does make me angry. But I’ve seen so much more GOOD of people than I have of bad, and it really makes me feel better about the whole thing.
Some Tips (kind of book store relevant, but also a good general guideline):
1. Call ahead. I don’t care what it says on the computer. Call me. I love to put things on hold. I do not love being yelled at for stock problems I can’t solve.
2. Don’t ask “Well what am I supposed to do now?” when you haven’t called and we don’t have what you’re looking for. There is nothing I, nor my manager, can do about that.
3. Plan for time. Look, we’re doing the best we can. We move the cash line as quickly as possible, and we have people whose whole job is to talk to people in the line in case they’ve forgotten anything.
3a. Especially plan for time if you want us to wrap things. I encourage people to go get coffee while they’re waiting, but give us an extra 30 minutes to wrap if it’s busy and you want a good job done.
4. Don’t bring your kids unless you absolutely have to. I speak here of the “too big to carry, too young to amuse themselves reading Wimpy Kid” segment. We have to pull a lot of our playing stations off the floor to make room for product, so there might not be a place for your kid to play when you get them here.
5. Let the computer figure out the best sale price. Seriously. There are a lot of promotions, but the computer will give you the best one.
And most importantly…
6. BE NICE TO THE SALES PEOPLE. They’re making minimum wage. They’re going to have to work up to close on Christmas Eve and then be right back in on Boxing Day morning. They’re probably not getting a bonus or turkey money from the company for this year. But if you smile at them and act nicely, they will bend over backwards to make sure you leave with exactly what you came for (and maybe something you hadn’t thought of, because we are really good at our jobs).
I’ve been watching the store get busier and busier, and it’s making me happy. Customers have already started to wish me “Merry Christmas!”, and the carols and songs are creeping into our playlist. Some of my co-workers roll their eyes and sigh, but I love it. Right now, I’m working from 5AM until 9:30PM most days (sometimes with a couple hour break in between). It’s been 65-70 hour weeks. It’s busy and it’s crazy and I have nowhere to put half the things in the stockroom, but I am determined: it’s Christmas, and there’s always magic at Christmas, if you’re willing to take a breath and look.
*Sunday evenings in July when ENTIRE BASEBALL TEAMS would come and buy ice cream, and I’d be working by myself and just DIE OF BUSY.
**For a 30 cent savings on hot wheels.
***For a stuffed robotic hamster that we weren’t allowed to sell until December 21.