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Lessons I Learned While Working Retail During a Pandemic


As a nineteen-year-old with no special skills or real work background, I am very lucky to be spending my days earning minimum wage as a cashier. I originally accepted the job reluctantly as a way to help make ends meet for college, but I’ve found myself truly enjoying my time in retail. I guess being forced to stay inside just makes you cherish being in public spaces (even poorly lit ones). Here are the greatest lessons I’ve learned from behind my cash register: 

Enjoy the little things: One day, we had a man walk into the store and come directly up to our wind chime display. He hit the display with his cane and stood there silently, listening to the tinkling until the chimes calmed to silence. He stood there for a while longer, smiling and nodding, and then the man left. He didn’t buy anything; he just saw the chimes in the window and wanted to enjoy their sound. 

In quarantine, it feels like we have an abundance of time: use that time to fully enjoy little moments. Whether it’s the weather on a particularly nice day, your manager letting you clock out two and a half minutes early, or the sound of cheap wind chimes, take time to cherish every good thing.

People are adaptable: Four months ago, people could walk through stores freely, unencumbered by safety precautions and fear of contracting infection. Now, people habitually stand six feet apart, wear masks, and sanitize their carts before using them. We have adapted to this “new normal” at an astonishing pace demonstrating our resilience. 

People can surprise you: The mask I wear to work is a rainbow pride flag (I want to make sure my pretty coworker with a nose ring knows I’m queer). While I stocked shelves the other day,  I caught a boy around my age staring at my mask. He was big, buff, and looked like he should be convincing people that he’s “not too drunk to do a keg stand” at a frat party rather than looking at decorative patio furniture. As he walked up to me, still staring at my mask, I braced myself for some bigoted comment. Instead, he said to me, “Of all the masks I’ve seen, this is the best. You win. I absolutely love it.” 

In a time where stereotyping is weighing especially heavy on people’s minds, remember that everyone has the capability to surprise you.

Some people take advantage of situations: Every time we get a new truck, there always seems to be some selfish person who buys up all the hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and toilet paper within the first hour (in one case, someone even lied to me about being a first responder in order to receive the 15% discount we were offering). 

Although there’s an overwhelming majority of good people in this world, some people still suck.

Most people are really kind: Sure, you have those people who exaggeratedly check their watch while you wipe down the register between purchases, but most people are very understanding and helpful. 

The other day, my manager asked my coworker to sew buttons onto a bunch of decorative pillows (my coworker had never touched a needle or thread in her life). When a customer saw her struggling, she stood six feet away from her and instructed her on how to sew a button. The customer offered encouragement and advice until every single pillow had a button on it. 

There is a sense of solidarity going around our nation right now and, with a few exceptions, it’s bringing out the good in lots of people. 

No matter how hard things get, remember that goodness still exists and will ultimately prevail.  

  1. I think this has pandemic has brought the good out in some and the bad out in others and you described it perfectly. 🙂

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