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Customers - A Shopkeeper's Lament


Author of two fiction novels, short stories and book reviews, Peggy Cole is a HubPages writer since 2009, currently working on a 3rd book.

Smells Like the Past

You walk into the collectibles store to an aroma of old wood, used books, fragile glassware and linens. You're reminded of your grandmother's house.

You walk into the collectibles store to an aroma of old wood, used books, fragile glassware and linens. You're reminded of your grandmother's house.

They walk in the door and within thirty seconds, an experienced shopkeeper can tell if they're likely to buy anything or if they're "just looking." Are they in the store to pass the time while the in-laws are in town? Are they bored young mothers who just need to get out of the house? Usually the stroller gives that type away. Are they competitors, scoping out your merchandise to reveal your secrets? Or are they a serious shopper ready to lay down their credit card and make a purchase? To be determined.

Small Business Owners Know

The American Dream of owning a small business is sometimes just that: a dream. Once committed to the reality, it can become a nightmare of escalating cost, long hours, and abusive patrons who riffle through the merchandise leaving things in complete disarray. You've just spent an hour folding and organizing those t-shirts and now look at them.

Some shoppers are just there to make a mess. You've probably seen their work, sodas and Styrofoam cups left on the store shelf detracting any appeal from other customers. They've touched every single item before they move on to the next store.

Five and Dime Store

In this photo, Woolworth's windows are filled with boxes of soap powder, bolts of fabric, stacks of notebooks, rows of socks, and countless other things to lure customers inside.

In this photo, Woolworth's windows are filled with boxes of soap powder, bolts of fabric, stacks of notebooks, rows of socks, and countless other things to lure customers inside.

Sniffers and Slurpers

Then there are those who must test out the fragrance of each item on the shelves, opening each bottle for a whiff, or spraying a hint of aerosol into the air for aromatic approval purposes, of course. Those customers probably led the drive for the "scratch-n-sniff" era of products.

Within my tiny store of resale goods next to a homemade candle shop, customers spent much of their time sniffing the goods and making observations about color, size and prices. Some frequented the shop for a quick, refreshing explosion of nasal activity. Others (the younger set mostly) came in, wrinkled their noses and announced that the store smelled like their Grandma's house. I took it as a compliment whether intended or not.

Spillers and Stalkers

Then, there are those who never travel without a quart-sized container of syrupy liquid that drizzles and oozes its droplets on any fabric and paper products it contacts. Two-handed shopping requires both hands, after all.

And, "Oops! I dropped my soda," is a waking nightmare for purveyors of fragile or porous merchandise, now covered in brown splatter.

Then, there's the proverbial bull in a China shop whose carelessness topples displays and wipes shelves clean of fragile items.

The Layaway Abusers

Or there's the bargain seeker who asks, "Can you give me a discount on this table and 4 chairs?" Eager to make a sale, you agree to drop your price. You need to make a big sale today as the rent is coming due.

Then she hits you with the caveat. "How long can I leave this on layaway?" You tell her the store policy is 6 months before it's returned to stock.

"Oh, that shouldn't be a problem," she tells you before putting the minimum down to hold the items. Your stockroom is full and now you have unpaid merchandise that you can't sell to anyone else. But, it's a sale, and there's that to consider.

Seven months later when she returns and you've finally sold the set to someone else, she becomes outraged and indignant, blaming you for her hardship and cash flow issues. To that, you can relate. Your finger on the phone keypad, you hover over the 9 button. She becomes hysterical, screaming and frothing across the counter at your store policies and lack of consideration for her needs. You push the buttons and an operator asks, "What is the nature of your emergency?"

Gift Seekers

Working alone late, the shopkeeper dreads the peeping Tom who outstays the other customers, staying in the store until they're the only one left. You feel their eyes peering from behind a partition as you bend to pick up debris from the floor.

"Oh, my wife would love that (insert item description here,)" he says, giving you the creepy once over. A chill runs up your spine as darkness gathers outside and the parking spaces in front of the store grow empty.

"I'll be closing the store in 5 minutes," you say glancing desperately toward the front entrance, hoping for someone else to come in. You hear him singing softly under his breath, "Fa fa fa faa fa, fa fa fa fa," (cue Psycho Killer Song). Even a customer with an unwieldy baby stroller, or someone with a soft drink in a slippery hand would be welcome at this point.

Groucho Marx's eyes follow as you saunter closer to the landline phone at the checkout counter, your mind whispering "911, dial 911," praying you won't falter.

"Which color do you think my wife would like better?" he asks, as if you'd know. "We're separated, and I want to please her with something from your store." He's already touched every item in the place, leaving sweaty fingerprints on the glassware and furniture. As a small consolation, you picture the forensic team dusting for fingerprints trying to identify the suspect after your demise.

You Never Give Me Your Money

Storytellers and Shoplifters

Sometimes you'll have a customer that thrives on telling their stories. Most of their time in a resale or collectible store is spent sharing a story about Great Aunt Nessie who had an item exactly like the one you've got for sale in the store. Except hers was red, and bigger and didn't have that type of a handle.

While they're busy telling tales, their buddy is over in the book section stuffing a couple of first edition novels under their shirt. They leave, happily on their way after bidding you a pleasant afternoon.

End of the Line

The Blessing

And yet, despite the stalkers, slurpers, pilferers, and gossipers who bring blight to an otherwise lovely day, it's those customers seeking a place of solace away from their work duties, household chores or loneliness who become regulars, become friends and offer a welcome break from the daily grind.

The joy of opening the doors early on a Saturday morning, taking in the fragrance of new old things that long to go home and be treasured. Brewing a fresh pot of coffee and having its rich aroma fill the space. Sipping it eagerly awaiting the first customer and to see what the new day might bring. The late night auctions, the garage sale finds and discoveries: those are the things that made working at the store enjoyable, made it all worthwhile. And more than anything else, it's the appreciation of things remembered, cherished, and preserved that made running a store a joy and a blessing.

© 2021 Peg Cole


Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 11, 2021:

Thank you, Umesh.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 11, 2021:

Hi Pamela, Thank you! Thankfully, there were a lot of good customers and I looked forward to their visits among the unusual and sometimes strange guests. Nice to see you today.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 11, 2021:

Hi John, So nice to see you today. I appreciate the emotional pull of the antique store, how it draws the mind back to simpler days of mechanical innovation and craftmanship. The stuff makes me a little melancholy, as if a patch in time has run its course. I can imagine my grandparents using these things when they were new and shiny.

Anyway, yes, I truly did enjoy the experience of running and working the store in the historic downtown area of a Texas suburb. Thanks so much for sharing it with me.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on July 10, 2021:

Well penned. Exhaustive.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 10, 2021:

I really enjoyed this article, Peg. There are so many different types od shoppers and you described them so well. Great article!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 10, 2021:

This was a very enjoyable read, Peg. I used to love browsing antique or curiosity stores. The atmosphere was enjoyable but hard to explain, though you did that well. Working there must have been both challenging and satisfying.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 10, 2021:

Hi Flourish, I'm glad that you found some comfort in cruising the antique and Amish shops during your baby's early years. Customers with babies and strollers were always welcome in the store and I understood the need for companionship and a break from the home routine. I tried to keep the expensive and fragile stuff out of the aisles so people could get around. I was working a full-time corporate job during the week and opened the store only on Saturdays and Sundays. That's when many people were entertaining their relatives and came in to browse. Often, the visits led to a later purchase of something that triggered a fond memory of something the folks had spotted. It made a nice surprise gift that they would never have expected to get.

These days I find myself going to antique stores just to experience the memories, smell the smells and look at the pretty things I no longer have room for and don't buy.

Thanks for sharing your experiences from the customer's point of view. :)

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 10, 2021:

Long ago I used to be the mother with the stroller going through local antique and Amish shops. My husband traveled a lot, I had no family around, and I was overwhelmed with a baby. Getting out and about was the only thing that kept me sane. However, I did buy old books from the Victorian era and Depression-era glassware.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 10, 2021:

Hi Peggy, I love resale stores even to this day. There's just something about putting together missing pieces to a set that's rewarding to me. Last weekend I found 3 green Anchor Hocking berry bowls at one store and 1 at another. It was satisfying to wash them in sudsy warm water and put them together with the mother bowl I already owned.

Yes, the creepy stalker was a hazard and he seemed to be fond of me. It got rather scary after a while as he couldn't be discouraged from spending idle time there with no intent to purchase anything.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 10, 2021:

Hello Fran, I would imagine working at Lowe's would be fun and a challenge at the same time. I never realized that people gave tips to workers except for those that loaded heavy stuff into my truck. Sometimes they would take the cash, other times not.

I also worked in a few hair salons, even owning my own for a time. We had an entirely different selection of customers who came into the shop, but, completely memorable, each in their own fashion. (yuk yuk)

Thanks for coming by, for sharing your experience and for the kind remarks.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 10, 2021:

Hi Liz, Certainly you're not one of the ones listed in the article. I would imagine you'd become a regular, stop in for a cup of coffee and the latest downtown news and maybe bring me a bag of homegrown tomatoes as one of my customers used to do.

Thanks so much for reading this and for leaving a great comment.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 10, 2021:

Hello Kyler, Shopkeepers hope for those shoppers, like you, that come in and purchase something they see, like and want. In the collectible trade, things are a bit different than franchises where the merchandise is predictable and expected. In collectible stores, items are random and usually strike someone with a memory or fondness from their past. I liked your description of the Mom and Pop shop and their innovative way of being unique.

Thanks for sharing your experience and for coming by to read this small slice of memories about running a store.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 10, 2021:

I love visiting antique and collectibles stores, and we have several furniture pieces and other items in our home today from them. Your story of the various types of customers was informative. The lurking last customer would be a bit scary, however.

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on July 10, 2021:

Peg, loved your article. At one time for seasonal times, I worked as a greeter at Lowes. Since I was the first person they saw, I had memorized each so that I could immediately direct the customers. It was a fun job and I loved the people. Believe it or not, I got TIPS (real money) from the customers. Management allowed me to keep the tips.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 10, 2021:

This is an insightful and interesting commentary through the eyes of a shopkeeper. It is a warning to all your readers not to fall into any of these categories as customers.

Kyler J Falk from California on July 10, 2021:

I've always been the kind of shopper who comes in knowing what they want, go straight to what it is I'm seeking, and get the heck out as soon as I possibly can. I rarely ask for assistance, even less frequently do I enjoy being asked if I need assistance, and I only detour for a head call if I absolutely must use the restroom. Those little mom and pop shops with the homely feel to them don't often have what it is I'm seeking, but strangely enough I always spend the most time in them.

The last time I spent a decent amount of time in a little mom and pop, a more intimate shop was in Bishop, California. It was a dimly lit, hardwood-laden candy store, and their decorations drew me in from outside. They had a bunch of different animal heads mounted on the wall, and their rock candy immediately stole everyone's attention once inside. Their rock candy wasn't the traditional sugar crystals, nor even sugar crystals at all, they were more like jars full of M&M style candy painted to look exactly like polished rocks; for some reason those little candies really charmed me and I bought about three pounds to bring up into the mountains with me.

Interesting article that brought back some good memories, thank you for sharing!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 10, 2021:

Bill, I didn't remember that you owned a store or two. Yes, it's a mixed blessing that I still miss and long to revisit from time to time. I was in that sort of nostalgic mood when I wrote this. Smiles to you. Thanks for coming by.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 10, 2021:

I owned two stores and, despite the fact that I am a card-carrying introvert, I loved working with customers and forming relationships with the regulars. For a guy who doesn't enjoy small talk, I am amazingly good at it. And I loved the challenge of building a business from the ground up. I could certainly relate to everything in this article, my friend. Now you have me missing retail just a bit. lol

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