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"Malled" reiterates that working in retail is often a "thank-less" job with low pay

By Jonathan Farrell
Posted Dec 19, 2011 in Lifestyle
Reading journalist Caitlin Kelly's account of life behind the counter in retail brought back memories of the time when I worked briefly for Mervyn's back in the 1980's. In Kelly's 2011 book entitled, "Malled - My unintentional career in retail," she provides an insightful look into the current working conditions that retail clerks contend with on a daily basis.
As much as I enjoyed Kelly's writing style and especially her descriptions of where she had been as a journalist compared to her adventure into the world of retail, I sensed that Kelly kept reiterating the same points over and over.
Yes, retail work at the mall on the sales floor is low pay and very unstable. Kelly it seemed to me kept repeating this fact. And it was mentioned many times how many of the workers in retail are most often not as well educated.
Kelly's observant details seemed to point out a sort of "caste system" of jobs and job-type personalities. Her observations were sharp. But to me the repetition made the book feel colloquial.
In a few spots the book seemed like a blatant exercise in self-promotion. That's great that Kelly got a job in retail and that she viewed it as an adventure. And, it is great that she had an exciting career as a top journalist. But why does she keep reiterating it over and over?
Kelly had an outstanding private school education and many accolades in her career, wonderful! So, what about it? How does that really shed more light or depth into the daily routine of a retail sales clerk?
Her book lacked something. It seldom ever said anything positive about the lives of all the people who attend to shoppers in a store in the mall or who wait on tables or pump gas at service stations and so on.
Kelly also kept comparing retail with her experience in journalism, which after a few examples, that got stale. As far as I see it, a journalist tries to please an editor and a sales clerk tries to make a sale by serving a customer.
Yes, customer service jobs are very demanding and people can be very short-sighted. Yet, each time Kelly reiterated what she had stated about low pay, various management styles and the backgrounds of co-workers the book was like one forlorn and very long complaint.
The conditions Kelly described are very much the same conditions I faced when I took a job in retail right out of college. And, when I complained to my mom, she told me flat out, "that's retail!"
My mom had worked at the prestigious I. Magnin & Company of San Francisco when it was in its glory days and then went back to work part-time when I was in 6th and 7th grade.
My mom also told me that if one remains in retail it is because they like working with customers and they understand the products or services offered and are eager to share them with the people.
I learned quickly during my brief stint in department store retail that working there is an eye-opening experience. And, like working at a restaurant after seeing the same food day after day, one has to love cooking or serving, etc. to stay in the work for an extended amount of time.
When I was at Mervyn's I saw it as an opportunity to earn a new set of clothes. Usually retail stores allow employees some discounts and that can be one of the benefits to working in retail.
Reading Kelly's memoir of retail said very little of the more upbeat aspects. Yet, I respect the fact that she wrote about the experience and it reminds us all that serving people is an important job that people often over-look or take as granted.

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