Privilege Blog

The Good In Retail Work, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:16am

So what’s good about working in retail? People. Stuff. And getting paid, but today let’s focus on the first two.

The people you work with. I loved being part of a team again. It’s wonderful when those who truly, madly, deeply know what they are doing help you out, without begrudging your ignorance.

The people you serve. I refer to those the moments when customers laugh with you in little sparks of life, even briefly joining you in a shared understanding of humanity. A home goods store is fertile ground for stories of families, and traditions, and as an American with many generations of the same behind me, one of my favorite things was reassuring immigrants and visitors that Thanksgiving dinner is no mystery. I have read that microinteractions can promote mental health; I was happy to do my bit.

Less important, but still fun, the stuff. Most retail jobs offer employee discounts and some can be substantial. I let everyone know where their presents would be coming from this year, in advance;). And I gave myself a couple of little gifts too. What, you might ask?

When I first started the job, I was drawn to this. So shiny. So ornamental.

But I refrained. What use, in truth? Take it out for the intermittent occasions when I host a family dinner? In my case not worth the space or money. A more frequent entertainer might feel otherwise.

Then I was distracted by this. A serious countertop oven. The door closes with a delicious thunk. But my toaster works fine, my ovens are old but functional, enough already.

I even took a brief detour down Vitamix lane, but seriously, I can buy fresh-ground almond butter at Whole Foods and I am never, ever, ever going to drink celery.

In the end, here’s what I brought home.

A wooden salt dish, to sit by my burners for salting as I cook. My salt grinder kept getting clogged by steam.

Two stainless steel Laguiole spreaders. I use them to spread the aforementioned almond butter on the aforementioned toast. The good thing is that they survive the dishwasher, unlike the colored versions.

Tongs for high heat. I melted my “non-stick” tongs, and have been gingerly poking at sautés in my Le Creuset, in an attempt to avoid marking the enamel, ever since. Problem solved.

And an 8.5 inch sauté pan that I will use for omelettes, replacing this. Hestan’s NanoBond line finishes their interiors with molecular titanium so that food sticks less than any other available cookware (that isn’t actual non-stick,) and the absence of interior rivets means fewer places for grime to take hold and hang on.

I’ll give the old pan to whichever of my children might use it.

My choices have improved my everyday foods; toast, browning, omelettes, salt. In the end, an exceptionally rewarding three months. And now back to attempting to finish what is supposed to be, if I don’t crawl under the sofa and stay there, my first novel. I hope you are all well and that February is treating you with care.

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32 Responses

  1. Great purchases. I gave family members that same salt container with a box of Maldon salt last holiday season. I use mine many times a day. I would buy that oven if I had room because our new home has only one oven, but it’s fine.
    As for the Vitamix, I use my constantly, because I make a lot of vegan pureed vegetable soups.
    I didn’t get a chance to comment on last week’s post, but my first job was working in a high end children’s clothing store while in school. I loved it. Of course this was almost 50 years ago, but people were so polite, friendly, no cell phones, and I enjoyed the interactions. I also started doing the displays, then the windows. and then other store windows in the shopping center. It was fabulous.

    1. @KSL, Oh Ifor you. I’d love to do the windows, I think. The place I worked, corporate sends directive for all the marketing displays, branding is centralized. How fun for you! I bet they were great.

      And great minds, on the salt bowl;). If I made a lot of soups, yes, the Vitamix would make sense.

  2. Lovely items. I have a marble salt holder with a non attached lid and love it.

    Working with people can be fun. Or not, but we can only control our own disposition.

    Cheers from cold and overcast Idaho.

    1. @MaryAnne, We can only control our own feelings, it is true. We can plead with everything else to help us out;). Today is very, very windy here in the Bay Area. Hope your sun has shown its face.

  3. Hi Lisa! I didn’t know you had worked retail. I have on and off and found it enjoyable for the same reasons. And I want that salt dish! (For the same reason!)

  4. I love salt cellars, mine is ceramic from Target. I keep kosher salt in it and the regular stuff in my shaker, which is about half full of rice so it will stay dry.

    I try not to go too heavy on salt, but sometimes I like to finish things off with the kosher salt, just to get the saltiness out there.

  5. Sounds like you enjoyed your time in retail and made some nice purchases too. This time provided some interesting interactions as well. I’m sure you could hold your own with a mix of grace and a firmness in any situation that might arise. It’s all good.

    1. @Susan, Thank you for your faith in me, but having been prone to blurting and display of emotion in less-than-appropriate settings for much of my life, it was so rewarding to be in a place where I was valuable precisely because I could keep my cool!

  6. I’m interested in “micro-interactions”. It seems that if there is a barrier be it a countertop or the limits of one person working you can have some intimate interactions.
    As people age it is harder for them to connect without fearing that someone will glom onto them?
    You have good energy Lisa.


    1. @luci, I think that’s right. It’s bound to be a short and careful interaction, so in a way that gives us all more freedom to connect knowing that the consequences are slight.

  7. Agree about microinteractions. Read an article recently positing the propensity for phone use and online shopping has expanded the loneliness epidemic that used to be avoided by those small but vital daily exchanges with others from whom we bought newspapers, breakfast, public transport tickets, and with whom we discussed directions, the weather, or some other life issue/event. (Irony: Tried to find the article. Found instead a UX article on how to build satisfying software microinteractions into phone software. Yikes.)

    Love your acquisitions. Have an Emile Henry curved white salt pig beside my stove. Love to pinch out my salt and grind my pepper. Have both the gorgeous Laguiole spreaders, which I use with cheese plates, (I’m a sucker for a good cheese plate and a good cheese spreader), and your tongs, though I keep forgetting to unlock them.:) Your Hestan saute pan looks intriguing. I have a Demeyere pan (also no internal rivets for ease of cleaning), which I bought because it was recommended, and because it’s beautiful. (Staub is the same for me.) After your three-month employment, you probably are a pro at such distinctions.

    Congratulations on the completion of your three-month job, and good luck with your novel.


    1. @Katherine C. James, Yes, the loneliness epidemic. You see it at the post office, where someone will be chatting with the clerk and everyone else gets antsy, or used to be at the bank. I can very well imagine the ATM designer trying to incorporate faux microinteractions to generate endorphins, and I believe that it works, to a point, and only to a point.

      Thank you for the congratulations:). And I’ll scope out Demeyere, new to me! Glad we are salt at stove pals;).

  8. That is a gorgeous saute pan. I like that pink casserole that you passed on as well, which I would need like a hole in the head.

    1. @Allison, HA. Hole in the head indeed.

      The pan is gorgeous, in a reflection of space kind of way, vs. the copper, which is historic warmth of heart;).

  9. Hi Lisa
    Thank you for the article on micro interactions. There is something in me that makes me want to make friends out of everyone, no matter where I am. Not all the the time mind you, but when I am feeling the vibe to reach out to another. I usually like to talk to ‘young’ people, this always gives them a surprise that a middle aged (!) woman would be interested in them. I love young people and try to encourage them at every opportunity. BTW my husband, who is an extreme introvert, thinks I am kooky for my friendly chatting habits. I was gladdened to have scientific evidence that I am increasing my own health and hopefully, those I interact with. On a side note, I have worked many years in retail, and they were some of my happiest days. My last position was for a homewares company, and I managed to amass far too many dinnersets and vases, among other things. I loved the customers, and the staff, even though some were notoriously difficult. I learned many foundational life lessons in retail that I now take with me into my current career as a property manager. Even learning to deal and manage a savagely narcissistic over promoted store manager successfully gave me a kick. I learned that I was going to stay until I was ready to leave and not give her the pleasure of seeing me go when so many others had left. I take that lesson everywhere I go, and have also passed it on to my children who have experienced difficult bosses. Stand your ground and don’t leave out of frustration, or as a reaction. Try to make peace with the situation in your heart, and then when you are good and ready, you can leave. When we downsized 5 years ago, I had the pleasure of giving each of my children those dinnersets and vases, and various other things, and also many items to a charity that sets up houses for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Now I have only what we need and so we make sure we love what we have and use everything frequently. I am loving this deconstruction of your experience. Blessings. TJxxxx

    1. @TJ, Thank you, what a richly told story of your time in retail! I can see all the dinnersets as I write, I am glad you were able to give some to charity, that feels good. I think some of us just genuinely do like to chat, to engage other people that way, and when we find the right setup to enable it everyone is served.

  10. I wanted to comment about something that was said as an “aside” to your post about micro interactions. Because both I work from home painting daily and my husband also works from home sculpting about 2 days a week, we go to the same place (Brentwood Country Mart) daily for lunch. People have often asked why we don’t eat lunch at home, or eat somewhere else for a change. The reason is these micro interactions. We know everyone there, we know the people who make the food at the various counters etc. The people who work in the stores, and love browsing and chatting in the bookstore. Just one hour of that per day, is often enough interaction, and a great break from the isolation of what we do. Thanks for bringing it all to our attention, and to mine, who has actually never thought of it before!

    1. @KSL, And now that you have told this little story, I’m thinking, the English pub, of course! A space where everyone can be sort of in their emotional container, because they can leave when they choose, but also they can reach out as much as they need to. We don’t have that in the US so much, and I see exactly how the Brentwood Mart would be that.

  11. Love your acquisitions. I have a vita mix which use regularly, but then I make quite a few vegetable soups and some need serious power — especially my favorite carrot greens soup.

    The wooden salt cellar is wonderful. I have some small wooden cellars that I keep on the counter for some specialty and finishing salts, made my a crafts person I met somewhere or another, and by the stove a ceramic crock from Bauer Pottery that holds my salt.

    I think it is those interactions that are important. I had considered working retail for a while especially since so much of what I do is solitary. At the moment, since there is no one else at home in the evenings, I have a routine for dinners, concerts, and events with a circle of friends and that is helpful. I can also see the point of having a few places one always goes and a regular routine. I am always reminded me of how much the farmers market feeds my soul — there are people I see ever week (two weeks in winter) an outer circle of sorts. And I think these brief interactions tie us into a loose fabric.

    1. @Mardel, A loose and wonderful fabric, with a bowl of well-salted vegetable soup laid atop:).

      It was nice to have so much human contact for a stretch. I’m alone for long stretches in the daytime, it was nice to have a period of intensive chat:).

  12. Every once in a while I toy with the idea of getting a job, but life is too short for the hassle since I am fortunate enough to not need the pittance most retailers pay. Instead I have taken up a variety of hobbies, which can involve classes and groups if I wish, or solitude if not. Pottery, knitting, handspinning, and most recently, weaving. I sew occasionally as well, but it’s harder to find classes for that, unless it’s quilting.

    I do try not to be an asshole to retail employees. It’s mostly not their fault.

    1. @Annie, Mostly not their fault:).

      And I only wish I liked crafts/handwork of any sort. I just don’t, except cooking and photoshop. People don’t tend to do those things in group too often, except in class settings. Clearly I did not think my temperament through when putting it together;).

  13. Hello Lisa, An interesting article, both for the gadgets and the micro-interaction philosophy. Please let us know how the saute pan works out–I have been disappointed by most non-stick finishes over the years, but if this is good I might get one for my mother.

    It’s funny, but most of my kitchen items were bought to fulfill a specific need, but over the years that has amounted to a tremendous number of pots, dishes and gadgets!

    Speaking of micro-interactions, my favorite is when a random baby smiles and flirts with you! Living in a big city does allow you frequently to cross paths with many people, which creates a certain liveliness, but when I lived in a distant suburb of Cleveland I equally cherished the peace and quiet.


  14. Before I fall asleep each night, I choose the best thing that happened to me that day. Sometimes it is a micro-connection: a friendly greeting or a helping hand. That reminds me to smile at everyone; that smile may be the best thing in someone else’s day.

    I worked high-end retail in Omaha 60 years ago. My feet really hurt. One memorable customer, speaking slowly and imperiously, with nose in the sir and pronounced as if she were the pinnacle of society: “I am Mrs. xxxx xxxx from Columbus, Nebraska.”

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