Author of fiction novels, short stories, book reviews and other online content, Peggy Cole has been writing articles on HubPages since 2009.
Smells Like the Past
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
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?"
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
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