(Above: The mall used to get a bit trashed on the day after Christmas.)
In my career, I have worked in three main areas:
- Retail (1985-1988). My first job was selling cigarettes to minors at a gas station in Tinley Park, IL. From there I moved to working at the mall. Most of the time was for the Kroch’s and Brentano’s bookstore in Orland Square Mall, which was walking distance from my house. Later in college I worked for the Radio Shack in Joliet, and then went on to
- Radio (1988-2012). I’ve covered this a lot here – from starting part-time at WJTW to finishing my full-time career at WGVU, most of my working life was spent on the air. After almost 25 years in the trenches, I left radio for
- Academia (2012-present). I’ve been teaching full-time at Grand Valley State University for the last six school years, and hope to continue to do so for a good long time.
Of these three careers, only one of them involves not working on either Christmas or the day after, and that’s #3. I’ve said that my time in retail showed me one side of how lousy people can be, and my time in radio showed me the other. As far as the Christmas season goes, though, retail took the cake, and the day after Christmas was the worst side of that worst side.
You see, in the 80s, there wasn’t this “Black Friday” incentive to shop early. The real deals came the day after Christmas when merchants reduced prices on stuff they didn’t sell, especially Christmas-themed merchandise. Kroch’s had gift and card departments, so things like boxed cards and wrapping paper all got lowered to 50% off on 12/26. It was an “all hands on deck” day: if you were on the staff, you were assured of being scheduled to work eight hours to deal with the sales and returns. Oh, and get in a half and hour early if you want to park. At ten minutes to 10:00 a gathering of shoppers would huddle outside the glass doors to the mall space; at ten they’d open, and the crowd would RUN to the middle of the store to grab the “best” wrapping paper. It was exactly like the scenes we’d see of people lining up for essentials in the Soviet Union; you know, the people we were “better than.” My job was to work the service desk, taking returns and selling things to people using charge cards. (Our store had this really weird system by which cashiers were allowed to handle cash and checks, but if you used a credit card you had to go to a completely different part of the store. This frustrated customers during the Christmas shopping season, especially after they had waited in line for ten minutes only to be sent somewhere else to do it again.) The first half of the day would be exhausting, and since there was that pressure for people to get the best stuff first, the last half of the day was actually pretty slow.
Then, lunch would come. I had an hour to walk the mall and do a little shopping myself. This was the time to spend the various gift certificates that would make their way into my stocking each year. My family knew what I liked, but also knew not what I had already collected, so paper certificates (in a pre-gift card world) were just as good as money. Initially they’d be to Musicland or Record Bar; in later years, when Red Tower Records opened up on the mall outlot, I preferred to shop there. The owners gave DJs a 10% discount on all purchases, and I probably cost them enough over time to force the place to go out of business.
Christmas 1985 saw me get my first compact disc player: a demo model from one of the mall shops that played one disc at a time. By 1986 I had rigged up a portable into my car that played through the FM radio on an unused frequency. Therefore most of my spending of “other money” was for compact discs. Thirty years down the path it’s mostly impossible to see or know which ones were Christmas purchases. (A number of discs got stolen from me in college as well, so some may be long gone.) I do remember some of the titles that I especially looked for were greatest hits and compilations, in an effort to get the gift scrip to go even further. Somewhere, in a box, I know I still have one: Atlantic Soul Classics. It was a good one:
This one got a ton of play in the car, and at home – heck, if I can find it over the holiday break, it’s going to play in my office at GVSU. And when I do, I’ll enjoy it on several fronts: the fact that it was a great gift, and the fact that I don’t ever have to stare down a pack of wild gift wrap shoppers ever again.