One Thousand Words on Just a Shopping Plaza

It’s just a shopping plaza.

It’s just two short blocks of stores. They aren’t even interesting stores. Just chains that sell crap that you don’t really need.

It’s just a shopping plaza.

But over in one corner used to be Booksmith, where I had my first job.

I was sixteen and saw the help wanted sign while I was out shopping. I asked my mother if I should put in an application. She said why not and waited on the sidewalk when I went inside. I walked out with the job and promptly burst into tears. I had applied on a whim and didn’t know if I even wanted the job at all.

I was horrified the first time the manager ripped the covers off the books that didn’t sell. They returned the covers but not the books. I never did get comfortable with that part of the job. I hated defacing books.

The Assistant Manager’s name was Sherry. She was tiny, five feet tall and less than one hundred pounds. At closing time, she’d stand at the register and yell, “Booksmith is closing in five minutes!” in a voice louder than any I have ever heard, before or since.

When I asked the manager to change my schedule so I could stage manage my high school’s musical, she said no. I responded that I’d have to quit. She said, “You mean quit the musical” and I said I meant quit the job. I was a teenager. Things like musicals were important. Jobs weren’t.

It’s just a shopping plaza.

But in the other corner was Fayva Shoe Store, my second job. I was hired after the musical and stayed though the rest of high school and during vacations in college. I returned for a short time after college graduation too.

It was a rather shabby store, but it was a home away from home to me. I can still break down a shoebox faster than anyone I know.

I remember taking a test when I applied. It included questions like “John brings back a pair of shoes and wants his money back. Is this a) an exchange b) a return or c) a sale.“ I got them all correct. The manager told me very few people did. That thought scared me.

My first night I told my mother that I didn’t think I would work there long. I thought the Assistant Manager was a jerk. He wasn’t really and I stayed.

I worked alone one Fourth of July and arranged all the women’s shoes so they were red, white, blue, red, white, blue. I think of that every Independence Day.

I remember taking inventory after the store closed, the radio blasting Eric Clapton’s acoustic version of Layla and Annie Lenox’s Walking on Broken Glass. I think of my coworkers every time I hear those songs. I can still name them all these years later: Dan, Ritch, Jen, Jennifer, Theresa. I saw them more than I did my own family for a while.

It’s just a shopping plaza.

But on the other side was the music store where I worked after college. It started off as Record Town and then changed to Coconuts.

I was still working part-time at Fayva, unable to find a full-time job right out of school. I was thrilled when the manager offered me $6 dollars an hour. I thought it was a small fortune since I was making less than $5 an hour at the shoe store.

Music was glamorous, compared to cheap shoes. This was in the years before iTunes and MP3s. It was cool to work in the music industry, even if it was just in a record store.

And I was good at it. I could find almost any song. All the customer had to do was hum a few bars.

The song Two Princes by Spin Doctors was popular then. Hundreds of people came in and sang the lyrics to us because they didn’t know the name of the tune. The cassette was located on the left, halfway down the aisle, two thirds of the way up the wall.

My favorite customers were the older folks who came in with a long list and bewildered look, trying to find music they had never heard of for their children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces. I would take them around the store, filling their arms with all the right songs. It was satisfying to know someone was going to have a very happy birthday, graduation, Hanukkah thanks in part to me

It’s just a shopping plaza.

But over there is the Hallmark store where I sold cards and wrapping paper for a short time, alongside my jobs at the shoe store and music store, in order to make my student loan payments.

And over there was the clothing store where I was called the women’s merchandiser instead of a sales clerk and had my first experiences with workplace bullying. That was where I learned to stand up for myself and was the first and only job I ever quit without notice.

It’s just a shopping plaza.

More important things were lost when Hurricane Irene devastated Vermont and New Hampshire. People died and lost their homes in the raging flood waters. A lot of folks no longer have jobs. They have the right to be sad. I don’t.

Rumors say the damage is so bad that the whole plaza is going to be torn down, but I know it’s petty to grieve. It’s silly to mourn the loss of a collection of box stores.

You can criticize me if you’d like. Call me frivolous, shallow or trivial. But it was an important part of my youth and saying good bye makes me melancholy.

I grew up in those stores. Those co-workers were my friends. Those break rooms were my home. I spent countless hours behind those counters and in those aisles, learning how to survive in the working world.

It’s not just a shopping plaza to me.

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One thought on “One Thousand Words on Just a Shopping Plaza

  1. Pingback: Blog Post #500! | One Thousand Words Project

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