I’ve worked most of my adult life in retail in some capacity or another. It is often said that retail is a thankless job. In a lot of respects that’s true, but for the most part I’ve had positive or, at the very least, neutral interactions with the public. Sure, there are some rotten apples out there, but those are largely few and far between.
And some customers are just plain awesome. Like Paul at the McDonald’s I worked at for a year at college. He was a great guy even though he proved me wrong when I told him one just couldn’t hear they’re doing a good job too much. But he just had to say it EVERY SINGLE TIME HE SAW ME WORKING! Still, a great customer. And Carl at the bookstore, always quick with a smile, some nice stories to tell and a truly sincere query about how my family was doing. And Jeannie and Marie (who still calls our store to chat to the old-school employees even though she moved out of state about two years ago) at my current store. Love them both for their ability to brighten the day.
But the top prize most definitely goes to Barbara, a regular at my current location. What a truly charming, engaging person. She’s taken a liking to not only the products we sell but also the staff we employ. When our meat cutter John died of a heart attack I was told that she cried quite a bit upon hearing the news. She even went to the funeral of our store manager’s son after he died in a tragic car accident. She’s quick to use please and thank you (my five-year-old manners cop would be hard pressed to catch her in any wrong doing) and really mean it each and every time. If we happen to be out of stock on what she wants, no big deal with Barbara. I remember the time shortly after the tsunami knocked out Fukushima power plant in Japan, destroyed billions of dollars and ended so many lives when a customer was furious we were out of a specific flavor of cupcake. (Now that’s the real tragedy.) You don’t get that with Barbara. She’s always pleasant and understanding.
Plus she has a great personality outside of her role as shopper. She’s the executive director of the local ASPCA and really loves caring for animals. Every time I see a photo of her in some media outlet she seems to be holding a puppy or kitten with a look of pure love and joy on her face. I’ve even seen her dress up in a full dog costume, complete with black nose and face paint, in November/December to sell the calendars for fundraising for the ASPCA.
As executive director of the ASPCA, and being married to a very successful banker, Barbara is not hurting for money. It takes some moolah to shop our store three times a week like she often does. Yet I’ve never known her to act in a snotty way. She even gets down and dirty in her daily life. She came in with her arm in a sling once. I asked her and found out she broke her arm falling off a ladder cleaning her gutters. She’s over sixty, could easily pay someone else younger to do it, but had no problem caring for her home herself.
But the best part about Barbara is what she does for us every December. Let me relate a little story from this past Wednesday. With Christmas fast approaching, my bakery does a fair share of business. So, the corporate office sends out distributions of the big sellers to each bakery. Ours get spread out; a moderate distribution on Monday, another on Wednesday (each about twice the size of a typical order for me) and a huge distribution on Friday (about three times the size of a typical order for me). Well, this Wednesday, as they were pulling the pallets off the truck, I noticed lots of items I did not order which were scheduled for the Friday distribution. Lo and behold, after checking the invoice, I noticed I was receiving the product I ordered, plus the anticipated Wednesday distribution, PLUS the Friday distribution. Basically, five times the size of an average shipment – ten pallets to fit on five empty pallets in the freezer. It took my entire shift. Needless to say, I was not exactly happy, especially when they sent out the E-mail warning us 6 hours after the truck arrived. But, midway through putting it all away, my clerk Lauren came in to the freezer saying she knew what would make me happy. She held up a little cellophane baggy with a red ribbon. Inside were three homemade peanut butter cookies. Barbara cookies.
Every year at Christmas time Barbara brings in her little baggies of homemade peanut butter cookies to give to the staff. Two or three days later she comes back to give to those who may not have been there for the first delivery. She made sure Lauren got them to me by name, and she checked with me on her return visit. I gave her a big hug and thanked her. Retail can be thankless? Not with Barbara.
And that’s what makes her