Saturday, January 27, 2007     « No More Bargains »


While walking down Delancey Street, we came upon a small, bargain store going out of business. I HAD to go inside to be amidst the frenzy of quickly emptying shelves and shoppers scrambling for rock-bottom bargains. And then there were the aisles like this in the back of the store.

These empty aisles made of cheap, discoloured pegboard remind me of my run working in a dollar store in the last year of high school. I took the job before the store had opened and without knowing what I would be selling. I was simultaneously offered a job across the mall at a Reitman's but was drawn in by the mystery of dollar goods. I was very familiar with the budget department store having been brought up on Bargain Harold's and The BiWay (both said with a husky 20 year, 2-pack per day habit) but could not wrap my head around a profitable market in bottles of shitty shampoo and kitchen gadgetry. It was also really hard to imagine keeping up a cheery front for the next 11 months in a blandy clothing store -- I basically got the Reitman's job by putting on my best game face and answering that awful, "Why would you be bad for this job?" question by saying that, "It would be hard to resist the temptation to spend my pay cheques on quality Reitman's clothing." High school and college are bullshitter training grounds.

When I think back, I can see that I really wasn't at all prepared for the Dollar Store. I was not prepared for the way people get about a possible bargain. Stereotyping and prejudice would have you think it was a lower-class thing but you'd be wrong. It was all kinds of people from all walks of life. My attitude as a worker was that the Dollar Store was a great leveler -- regardless of class and no matter how inflated their sense of entitlement, everyone got exactly a dollar's worth of service.

We had constant line-ups to the back of the store until well past Xmas. And as a cashier I wasn't just ringing in purchases and mediating money transactions. Some people saw me as their coat check girl; women in furs wanted me to be their personal shopper or child minder; others relayed a detailed inventory of every purchase explaining why and for whom they were buying that bubblegum pink bingo dauber or reclining ceramic bear. Many people expected free gift-wrapping for that reclining ceramic bear. One woman confided intimate details of a life-long drug addiction. A mother and grandmother pair ignored a child's plea to use the bathroom, leaving her to deposit a watery shit on the floor. Guess who had to clean it up? One mall regular (there were many) came into the store daily and could not leave without bringing a steak knife up to the counter.

Every job I have ever had has taught me something about people, the social world, and the craziness of life, but it was at the Dollar Store where I lost the ability to look people in the eye.

« No More Bargains »