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Department Store Dispatch: A Christmas Story

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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

Holiday season brings out the worst in retail. Once our halls are decked with boughs of holly, our obligatory shiny cocktail dresses shipped, and our sales racks newly replenished, the panic commences.

Gift-giving is, of course, a sales associate's worst nightmare. You can only hope that the recipient of the very expensive designer gift you're selling is not too discerning. Well, at least not discerning enough to return the item, anyway. Hopefully, she just re-gifts it.

One of my fellow sales associates has a logical solution to avoiding post-holiday return rates: "I don't give out gift receipts. Even if they ask, I tell them it's in the box."

Since that's not exactly something I'm willing to do, I just try to enjoy the high paychecks and busywork that accompanies Christmas. Stepping out on the street is an absolute nightmare, thanks to tourists who seem to become temporarily paralyzed at every other step, but it's nice to see so many people excited about spending lots of money.

One client I had was clearly not in much of a mood for the Christmas spirit. I woke up to a phone call on Saturday morning at 8am, still groggy from a night of heavy drinking.

:Hello, I was given your information by a friend of mine, Tammy," chirped the voice on the end of the line. I smacked my head to my forehead in self-hatred. Tammy was an anxious mess of a client, always taking multiple hours to decide on one purchase. She asked for my cell phone number, and I obliged against my better judgment.

"I need the Chanel wallet on a chain in the classic black quilted, and I need it to sent to this address by tonight," she said, listing off a penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side.

"We don't messenger on weekends," I responded, while writing down her credit card information.

"If that bag doesn't get there in time for her party tonight, I will not be a happy client," she retorted. Before I could protest, I kid you not, she'd hung up the phone.

At work, I managed to convince my manager, his supervisor, and our security team that I was not going to leave the store with a client's newly purchased Chanel purse and steal it. I was going to deliver it. I filled out form after form of paperwork and readied the bag for purchase. The bag needed to be at the apartment by 9pm, and the store closed at 8pm. That was, I reasoned, plenty of time for me to close my register and take a (non-expensed) cab to her building.

"Your phone!" my coworker shouted from the register while I was helping a Russian woman with a leather skirt. I ran to retrieve it, and heard the familiar voice from this morning on the line.

"I detest your gift wrapping, I just remembered," she said. "Can you please take it elsewhere to be wrapped? I want it fabulous. With chocolates and candies and everything. Her favorite color is pink."

I didn't know what else to say but "yes." Oh, no. I made a vow to run to a gift store on my lunch break to get everything taken care of. But there would be no lunch break, since the holidays mean never being able to sacrifice a moment on the sales floor. I had a client come in who needed a dress to wear for a cigar club party, and a mother-daughter pair who needed my advice on resort wear for their trip to St. Tropez. Before I knew it, it was 8:15, and I had an unwrapped Chanel bag and an un-closed register.

After counting furiously, I grabbed the bag, hustled through security, and took to the streets. Where the hell in Midtown could I find a place to wrap after 8 o'clock at night?!

I remembered she had said chocolate, so I instantly thought of one word: Godiva. Siri helped me find a location nearby, but it was absolutely mobbed with hungry tourists. I looked around for someone to help me, praying to God in my head. It was 8:30, and I had to climb 20 blocks before 9pm.

I grabbed a girl, handed her my credit card and the Chanel box, gasped, "Lots of chocolate and pink!" and watched her run to the back room. When she came back, the box had been beautifully surrounded by a cascading flow of ribbons, with wrapped truffles and candies dangling everywhere.

She also handed me my receipt: $45.

I gawked at the bill, but had no time to react. I thanked her, ran out of the store, hailed a cab, and made it to the apartment by 8:55. The lucky recipient's doorman wouldn't let me in, of course, so I waited downstairs for her. Finally, she appeared: Twenty-something, tall, gorgeous, and brunette, wearing the Very Privé black Louboutins and a black cocktail dress. She had her fur coat draped around her arm, and stopped at the sight of me.

"Oh my GOD!" she screamed, and hugged me with genuine excitement.

Somehow, that made it all worth it.
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· Department Store Dispatch: Mother's Helper [Racked NY]