‘Retail survivors’ tales comprise ‘The Customer is Always Wrong’ | Book Review

You knew it was a bad time of year to go to that store, but you went in anyhow and wished you hadn’t. The lines were long and filled with grumps and kids, both way past nap time. You couldn’t find anything because the place was a mess. The sound system was broken and the same Christmas song was playing over and over and over until you thought you’d scream. You couldn’t wait to get out of there. Too bad you were the person behind the cash register.

  • Tuesday, December 16, 2008 2:16pm
  • Life
Kibler Elementary School third-grade students arrived at the Enumclaw police station Thursday bearing gifts for the department’s Cops For Kids program. For the past nine or 10 years

Kibler Elementary School third-grade students arrived at the Enumclaw police station Thursday bearing gifts for the department’s Cops For Kids program. For the past nine or 10 years

“The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles,” edited by Jeff Martin, c. 2008, Soft Skull Press, $12.95, 171 pages.

You knew it was a bad time of year to go to that store, but you went in anyhow and wished you hadn’t.

The lines were long and filled with grumps and kids, both way past nap time. You couldn’t find anything because the place was a mess. The sound system was broken and the same Christmas song was playing over and over and over until you thought you’d scream. You couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Too bad you were the person behind the cash register.

In the new book “The Customer Is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles,” edited by Jeff Martin, you’ll see that you’re not alone. You’ll also see that there is humor in them there aisles, too.

Want great discounts on merchandise? Don’t mind long (long!) hours on your feet? Do you have the negotiation skills of a statesman, the strength of a linebacker and the patience of a kindergarten teacher? Are you ready for work with little-to-no job security? Then step up and sign on for a retail position.

Editor Jeff Martin says that the writers of this book “are retail survivors.” They’re the ones who helped you find that elusive gift. They’re the people you yelled at because they didn’t have the color sweater you wanted. The writers represent all the people who ever took your money at a cash register. They might even represent you.

Unless you work in a kids’ store, small shoppers can sometimes be a challenge for retail workers. Mystery author Elaine Viets writes about doing research for a novel while working in a bookstore and how a comment from a 12-year-old boy gave her hope for the world of reading.

Stores are magnets for unique customers and local “characters.” Kevin Smokler in “Another Day at the Video Store,” writes about some of the ones who visited him at work. In “The Bad Call,” Clay Allen remembers an early-morning group of customers that made him cry. And the word “project” will scare you, too, when you read “Other Things in Mind” by James Wagner.

And years from now, when you look back on your time spent working retail, think of “We Weren’t Really Rock Stars” by Richard Cox. Maybe you’ll remember to be nice to the new guy behind the cash register.

Had your fill of crabby shoppers, tinny music and crowded parking lots? No matter which side of the checkout counter you’ve been on recently, this book is the perfect antidote to it all.

In “The Customer is Always Wrong,” Martin assembled 21 stories from the trenches, including great experiences and ones best forgotten. For retail workers past and present, there’s familiar hilarity in some of them and sobering realism in others. Having spent time in retail (at a bookstore, of course), I loved this book.

Pick up a copy of “The Customer is Always Wrong,” then go ahead and throw away the receipt. This is a book you’re going to want to keep on your shelf for a long time.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.


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