Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fabric Store Clerks

Several years ago I worked behind the checkout counter in an outdoor gazebo selling blooming plants and garden supplies.  The owners of this garden center instructed all of their employees in exceptional customer relations--- believing that people are more important than the bottom line.  They taught us that it was more important to make a friendly connection than to enter the numbers correctly on the cash register.  We were taught to greet the customer with kindness and offer help whenever needed.  This included customers who called the shop with ordinary questions.  If you were ever caught being negative to a customer the result was dismissal.  This was sometimes challenging if there happened to be a rush on seasonal plants and a long line of hot, impatient people.  I loved this work, being outdoors, engaging with people, watering and growing crops of new flowers.  It was challenging to learn the latin names of plants, shrubs and trees and also extremely physically demanding.  There were days of unloading trucks filled with heavy potted trees, 50 lb bags of mulch and manure.  It made me athletic and energized and happy. 
       Since that experience I have retained the habit treating all people with the same positive, friendly attitude.  No matter if they are a customer with money to spend in my shop, or if I am a customer with money to spend in the fabric store.
       It is a consequence of fussiness, perfection, and poor customer relations training that the ladies who cut fabric for me do not return my sunshine.  In the script of my life, they are characters I've come to love for the entertaining and predictable response I get every time I lay a bolt of faux fur or novelty fleece or cushy plush on the table.   
     Now, one would think that people who work in fabric stores have a very easy job due to the simplicity of their tasks.  The main requirement of a fabric store clerk is to be able to use scissors.  One doesn't even have to cut a perfectly straight line, because the raised metal strips on the long tables act as a guide.
    It's probably to my financial advantage that I dread going to stock up on my supplies.  Less trips across town save gas and help me to maintain a low overhead.  One day, I will be able to order everything in big fat bolts online without having to scrimp on fractions of yards of the most wonderful furry stuff....but until then,
I stand and wait for the arrows that fly my way...

    "This stuff is messy"

     "Phew! it goes every where"

 Then they stand there brushing themselves off in a huffy sort of way, sometimes bringing out a duster to collect fibers, swishing it in arrogant strokes like a mother cleaning up her children's mess.

It used to bother me that just by laying down a bolt of fabric, I had the power to turn someone into a grump.

Now I just laugh inside and stand there in complete silence.  I never feel the need to apologize for their discomfort.

Now, this happens every time, no matter what, at both fabric stores in my city.  At the one furthest away with the best prices, there is a short elderly woman who looks just like the smoking dead lady in Beetlejuice.
She is positively wizened, with a little hump on her back and a raspy voice.  She wears large frames with thick lenses to magnify her round, popped out eyes.   She's my favorite and I love her...that's not sarcasm I promise.  If you knew her you'd love her too.  Once I brought Richard to help me shop and he charmed her.  In fact the only way I get past the fabric table with kindness is if I take him with me.  Those women would cut the hide of a dead rhinocerous without complaint as long as he keeps chatting to them and smiling.
  Yesterday I didn't have my handsome man with me and had to face it alone.  And guess who was favorite character of all.

And when I plopped that bolt of long black faux fur on the table, with no restraint, she said

"I HATE this stuff.  What a mess.  Do you wear contacts?  Don't wear contacts when you're working with this stuff.  YOU"LL SCRATCH YOUR EYEBALLS OUT!"       

Which reminded me of A Christmas Story when the department store Santa tells Ralphie  "you'll shoot your eye out kid!"

And today, with both of my eyes unscratched, I sit here writing and chuckling, excited about the season that brings the parents and grandparents of children to Knees and Paws, searching for items that they won't find at Walmart.   Like this Ring Tailed Lemur Tail that I made with black and white faux fur.

***To my wonderful customers, I assure you that once the fabric is sewn together there is little or no's only when it must be cut that the fibers are loosened.        

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