Every day, I read the business section of The New York Times and I read The Wall Street Journal. I listen to NBC Nightly News, BBC World News and PRI’s business show, Marketplace. The received wisdom is: people aren’t shopping, people are only buying what’s on sale, people are only buying hot, trendy items like fake hamsters.
Not at our store. I’m forbidden from giving specific figures, having signed an NDA when I started working there, but in our wealthy neighborhood — with shoppers streaming into the mall from big bucks enclaves like Scarsdale, Greenwich, Cos Cob and Darien in their shiny new Range Rovers, Escalades, Mercedes and Lexuses (Lexii?) — they’re spending plenty. I had a four-figure sale to a woman heading off with her family on a ski vacation in Switzerland, the largest single sale I’ve ever had.
It was the usual Black Friday madness, our entire staff working together re-making every pile of sweaters every five minutes like some retail Augean stable. The place looked like a plague of locusts, albeit bearing fat wallets, had swept through.
I worked 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., getting off easy; one of my co-workers, a single mom with a long bus commute, had to wake at 3 a.m. to get to the store by 6 a.m. Our breaks were 30 minutes, not the usual hour (unpaid) but our boss supplied boxes of pizza and bottles of soda to fuel us through it all. We now know enough to drink as much water as we can and lube up our hands with moisturizer many times a day; we get dehydrated and handling clothing all day sucks the moisture from your skin. Sometimes it gets so dry it cracks.
Many shoppers asked if we were having a sale and, with only a few things marked down, harrumphed and left. That’s nothing new, though. We’re asked every single day for every form of discount: military, students, teachers. Who does do this? Not our company.
Working a sales floor, even part-time, affords me an interesting perspective on this recession and on who’s spending and why. I tell you one thing: people with money are whizzing through it as though it’s 2005, not the second full year of the worst recession in 70 years. The wealthy are so insulated, with their 8-carat diamonds and Birkin bags and four-ply cashmere. Whoever’s hurting out there, it ain’t them.