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Department Store Dispatch: True Stories from Black Friday

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Welcome back to the Retail Diaries, in which an anonymous sales associate at a high-end Manhattan department store reveals what it's like on the other side of the cash register. Note: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent.

Photo by Bairachnyi Dmitry/Shutterstock

If you work in retail, you know the bad taste that appears in your mouth when you hear the words "Black Friday." There's only one date on the schedule that's equally horrifying, and that's the day-after-Christmas sale. The pandemonium that occurs on these fateful days is enough to induce a fashion version of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Images of Black Fridays past flashed ominously through my head as I tried to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner: Bridge-and-tunnel shoppers dashing for the sales racks. Impossibly long lines at the register. Crowds of people pushing and shoving, rabid at the mere thought of designer merchandise for 50% off.

It's a luxury department store's worst nightmare: The one day of the year when our smiling sales associates and finger-spaced clothing racks fall victim to voracious, indiscriminate customers, most of whom care less about style than they do about a good bargain.

This year, I worked the late shift on Black Friday, which is both good and bad. It's good because it meant I had extra time to digest my dinner, cure my wine hangover, and stroll into work well after the bridge-and-tunnel crowd had made its way through. However, it also meant coming into a wrecked landscape of clothes piled in the aisles and heaped in the fitting rooms. It was a mess. I smiled a hello at my coworkers and they all stared back blankly, empty. It had happened: Black Friday had stolen their souls.

We are all extremely grateful to be employed, especially in this economic climate, and I'm certainly not complaining about the massive amount of business that Black Friday generates. It is, in a sense, perversely wonderful to see a bunch of Diane von Furstenberg, Rag and Bone, Rachel Zoe, and Elizabeth and James clothes thrown about haplessly. It shows that people are excited to shop. I just wish it was more?dignified.

Especially since Black Friday means, for most of us, leaving our families early, skipping the last hours of the feast, and missing out on treasured post-holiday moments with the ones we love. But such is the nature of retail. We are providing a service to a sale-hungry nation!

"Will you please help me?" one lady asked as I was running for cover in the stock room. She was older, and looked very weary. I felt her pain. She showed me a pair of sad-looking Theory pants that were twice marked down. She had a 6 in her hands, but really needed the 8. Couldn't I please rescue her?

I glanced at the sales rack and suddenly knew what it felt like to be the cast of The Walking Dead when they see a herd of flesh-eating zombies coming their way. Elbows out, I shoved my way in between two Jersey Housewives and started to dig. She was getting those chinos!

Triumph! "I found them!" I hollered a little too enthusiastically, and she smiled back. I escorted her to a register towards the back of the store, away from the sales racks, where there was no line.

"Sixty-one dollars. Amazing," I said. The pants had originally been over $200.

"Sixty-one? Oh. Wow. No further discount?" she pressed.

I twirled my hair in my finger and breathed deeply. "No, ma'am, I'm sorry. Final price."

"Well, can I return them if I don't like them?"

"Yes, ma'am, of course."

She paused for a moment, and looked at me. I didn't have the energy to smile back.

Finally, she reached into her coat, pulled out her Goyard customized monogrammed wallet, and handed me her American Express Black Card.

Now I was smiling. The Black Card is the Holy Grail of credit cards: a rumored $250,000 spending minimum. It's for the ultra rich. Usually, it meant good news. Here, it just meant horrible irony. So I swiped the card, entered the code, and watched her reluctantly sign the paper. She asked to keep the receipt with her, "just in case."
· Department Store Dispatch: Secrets of the Shoe Section [Racked NY]
· Department Store Dispatch: Mother's Helper [Racked NY]
· Department Store Dispatch: Pretty Woman in Léger and Loubs [Racked NY]

Rag & Bone

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