Shopping the “downtown” of my hometown Main Street is something I have enjoyed since childhood. Main Street is, and always has been a wonderful mix of specialty shops and restaurants. Many years ago, JCPenny and Woolworth’s were the big draw. Today, it’s the eclectic mix of such variety, one can find anything and everything. Almost.
Our annual Black Friday shopping always includes a trip downtown. We do it because we love Main Street. We know many of the shop owners, who greet us with huge smiles, ask about family, and share their lives with us. We love it because we know the value of keeping it at home. We shop downtown because we are treated with respect and kindness. We also shop local, because we want to give back to the community we live in.
The first stop last night was with shop owners who are warm and friendly and who always have a funny story to tell about their lives, their dog, or travels. This year it was a very comical story about the “angst” of cooking the turkey, or rather, the horror that a wild animal might eat the turkey before it went in the oven! We always leave there with the perfect gifts for family, because the owner takes the time to show us new products. Warm, generous hugs were given before we left.
The next stop was a store we frequent throughout the year. This one awarded us with more hugs, laughter about the fact that I must pick out a number of “items” and then go to a different part of the store so I won’t know what is being bought. Once again, we experienced the warmth of the manager, wonderful customer service, and the fact that she is always my husband’s personal shopper once a year. It truly made us feel very welcome and at home.
The third stop was with shop keepers who we saw frequently while growing up. My parents were teachers locally, and the husband and my dad worked together for many years. When visiting this store, it’s customary for them to ask about my mom and brothers. There’s sometimes a funny memory of my dad, and as always, phenomenal service. The hugs were there, and we enjoyed hearing about their Thanksgiving adventures with their children and grandchildren.
We figured out that the 30th annual lighting of the Christmas tree was going to take place at 6pm, after leaving the third shop. It was about 5:20. A store we infrequently shop at, but has unique items, was still open. I mentioned that I wanted something special for a friend, and we decided to go in, at 5:20. The two staff members standing by the door didn’t greet us. Nor did they smile when I smiled and said hello. Instead, one staffer moved in front of me and said, “We close at 5:30, come back tomorrow.” In defense of the person, I didn’t look at the hours when walking into the store, so I didn’t realize they were closing in 10 minutes. My response was “thank you,” and we walked out.
We decided to stay and watch the lighting of the tree and headed down to the plaza. After about 20 minutes we were cold, and a nearby store was still open. I read the hours and they were closing at 6:00. We had about 10 minutes. We walked in, were greeted with a smile and a hello, but no word about them closing in a few minutes. We wanted to be conscious of the time, so we browsed, got some ideas and as we were leaving, the store owners said a gracious good night and smiled. After the tree lighting, about 6:15, I noticed these two store owners just locking their doors.
If you’ve ever worked in retail, you understand that customer service is the key to success. Retailers don’t work nine to five, or ten to six. They work to provide service to their customers. They deserve to be able to open and close their stores per the hours posted. I know this, because I grew up with parents who owned a summer candy shop in a tourist town. They taught us the the customer comes first. Within reason, of course. They taught us the customer is always right. Within reason, of course. My parents taught us to respect others, to be kind, and to also stand up for what is right.
I woke up this morning contemplating what was right, or wrong, about last night. It was disconcerting that we were basically told to “come back tomorrow.” I pondered the following: Did this clerk know me? Did the clerk know that I still had 10 minutes to shop in the store per the posted hours? Did the clerk care about customer service? Then I asked myself if perhaps the clerk had a sick relative to go home to? Perhaps it had been too a long day and it was time to close the doors? I asked myself if I should have pressed the person and noted the hours on the door? I thought of the 4 other stores we went into and decided none of my questions mattered. What mattered is that we know where we are welcome when we go downtown.
As I sit today and write this, I think about my line of work. It is extremely important to welcome new people to my community. I chose to stay in my community, because it has given me a sense of home since I was young. I love my town, where work, shopping and associating with friends and family make it more special. I am encouraged that the majority of our main street merchants feel the same. Thank goodness they do. I can, with confidence say these are the shop owners who I will refer, because I know they will never tell someone, “It’s 5:30 and we’re closing, come back tomorrow!”