In some of my previous posts, I mentioned the fact that in high school and college I worked part-time selling ladies shoes at a local department store—Goldsmith’s (now Macy’s). But two recent events got me to thinking more about this time long ago, one conscious and one subconscious.
Over the 2015 Christmas break; I went to a picture-framing store to frame some photos of Amsterdam for our midtown condo. The woman who helped me looked familiar to me but I just assumed it was because she had helped me in the past, as this is the same place I always go to get things framed since my daughter worked there in high school. As we completed the transaction and I gave her my name, she commented that she had worked with someone by that name at Goldsmith’s a number of years ago. I admitted that I too had worked there and through our conversation came to the realization that we had worked together there—over 40 years ago.
When I came back a week later to assemble my photos with the frames, we began to reminisce about the people we worked with and some of the things that went on there. Many of the things we talked about I had not literally thought about in 40 years. It was fun to think back to our youth in those days.
Then in February this year, I woke up one morning out of a dream where my wife and I were at Goldsmith’s. We had been Christmas shopping and we were going to spend the night at the hotel that was a part of the store (obviously the store did not have a hotel associated with it but it is funny how our mind connects things in dreams). As I lay awake that morning, I began to again think back over my memories of that period of my life and how it all got started.
In 1972, my oldest sister was a department manger at Goldsmith’s and through her connections I was able to get a part-time job for the Christmas holiday season that year. I worked in the men’s department and I recall it was nice making the extra money since my only previous jobs had been delivering newspapers and cutting the grass at my dad’s church with a high school friend of mine. Unfortunately, the Goldsmith’s job ended sometime after the holidays.
In the spring of 1973 (I seem to recall having been encouraged by my mom), I inquired with my sister if there might be another job for me. Part of my desire was the recognition that through this type of job, I would be able to buy my first car. She said she would check and get back to me.
Once my sister contacted me, she said that they didn’t have any openings in the men’s department but they did have an opening in the ladies shoe department. Although I knew nothing about ladies shoes, I went in for the interview—my first ever. I can still picture the manager’s face (and name) and even some of the questions he asked me. I don’t know if he viewed the interview as simply a formality as with my sister’s connections I would be hired no matter what because some of the questions he asked didn’t seem to have anything to do with selling. But thankfully he didn’t ask me any questions about ladies shoes even though my mother had tried to help prep me by at least describing the different types of ladies shoes prior to the interview. I was hired on the spot at $1.80 per hour.
It is sometimes amazing what things we remember. I can even recall my employee number, 3479, that I had to key into the cash register each time I made a sale (we worked on commission). Sometime after starting, I became what was known as a “blue pencil”—a prestigious recognition that visibly meant that my name was spelled out on my nametag with a blue plastic strip rather than black. One of the responsibilities of a blue pencil was that they had to verify proper identification had been written down on a check being taken for a purchase by a regular salesperson (still back in the day when people actually wrote checks).
This job was where as just a teenager, I made my first work friends.
I can recall department softball games and various parties. Interestingly, my oldest sister’s mother-in-law also worked in the ladies show department and I’m sure she watched out for me in those early days as well.
And I can remember a game we used to play when we went on break. We were fortunate to have a set of stairs in the back of our stockroom where the boxes of shoes were stored that led directly to the downstairs employees break room (this was important so we could go on break as a group of three or four without one of us being caught by a customer as we tried to step off the sales floor). At that time, Coca-Colas were sold in 10 oz. tapered glass bottles out of the Coke machine. On the bottom of the bottle, the city of the bottler that had originally sold that bottle was embossed in the glass. Our game was whoever got the bottle from the furthest away city would win (it might have been a dollar from each loser). Whenever we encountered two cities which based on our knowledge we didn’t know which was farther, we would call up AAA or Grey Hound Bus and ask them which city was farther from Memphis in order to declare the winner (remember this was long before PCs, the Internet, and smart phones).
Over my time working there, I recall seeing some pretty wild looking shoe styles (I thought wedge heels were hideous at first but they proved very popular). I remember when we would unload “hampers” of new shoes; it was always fun to open the first box to get a glimpse of the new style. Then we would have to shelve them by size on a row matching that style shoe (pump, sandal, etc.) where we still had empty shelf space (As the sizes sold for a particular style, one task we would have was to “tighten up” the boxes freeing up empty space at the end of the row. No one wanted to do this, as we earned no commission doing that task.)
At Christmas time, we would get in a large number of house shoes, which were always popular Christmas presents. I recall working one Christmas Eve when a gentleman came in just before closing to buy his elderly grandmother a pair for Christmas. After striking out on several different styles and any sizes even close to his grandmother’s smallish size 7, he picked up one style and said what size do you have in this. I went back and found we only one pair left, a size 10. When I relayed this to the gentleman, he surprisingly said he would take it. He explained she was going to return it anyway.
Prior to closing at 9:30 PM, it was also the Blue Pencils job to close the register and take all the extra cash and checks down to the credit office. We would have to count out all the cash and leave $50 in in the register in some predefined denominations for the start of the next sales day. Then it was out the employee door since all the other doors would have been locked.
Over my five-year tenure at Goldsmith’s, a time I grew from being a teenager to a 20 something, I don’t ever recall dreading to go to work; maybe I did but I just don’t recall. It was certainly a learning experience and one that helped someone like me who was a strong introvert to become more extraverted. But by far, the greatest experience I had there was one I have previously relayed, as this is where I met the woman that became my wife.
So it is with fond memories that I think back over this time. I’m sure I have other memories hidden away that may come to the forefront of my thoughts based on some future prompting. Because you just never know where that may come from.