Retail Politics

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Freelance journalist Caitlin Kelly talks about her new book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail, and how she went from The Daily News to North Face and what she learned about the service economy along the way. 


Caitlin Kelly

Comments [27]

@J.D. from west village

Thank you!

Apr. 20 2011 12:41 PM
Edward from NJ

"Needing the money" and "Hoping for a book deal" are not mutually exclusive.

Apr. 20 2011 12:37 PM
J.D. from west village

I stand by my "princess slumming for book and movie deal" comment. How do you get to middle age and be surprised by most people's daily grind? Kinda solipsistic, i.e., she's a princess slumming, i.e., this was a profitable, relatively brief adventure for her.

Apr. 20 2011 12:31 PM
afs from uws

so what happened to the writer's career in retail?

of course, she's shilling her book based on her "anthropological" experience.

the difference between barbara enhrenreich and ms. kelly is that enhrenreich was transparent about her stint in retail, i.e., that it was to immerse herself in an experience so foreign to her so that she might write a serious book on its challenges.

Apr. 20 2011 12:13 PM

I had many retail jobs growing up. I understand what Ms. Kelly is talking about. Some of these massive corporations get it very wrong when it comes to employee benefits as well as their general treatment and the lack or respect they show for their frontline staff who are the face of their brand. It is hard standing on your feet getting minimal breaks even though you are allowed by law. At the end of the day you just want to collapse, at the end of an evening shift you often can't sleep.
However, there is nothing new here. It is new for the writer, who comes across as self possessed and condescending. I worked with many people with highly advanced degrees at Doubleday in NYC in 1981 and we thought it was a bad economy then. I had other menial jobs then as well, all with a mix of people. I am glad this fast talker who wants the world to know you can be white and still have a retail job had this experience. I am genuinely sorry she got sick while working as a journalist, but taking care of ourselves is a choice we all have to make.
The fact that we can not assume a lack of education, nor "breeding" on the part of a lower level employee is as old as the hills. Who care's anyway? People aren't judging you as harshly as you judge yourself.

Apr. 20 2011 12:12 PM
MP from Brooklyn

All of the sarcastic comments are a little surprising. Retail has long been dominated by part-time and temporary workers. Why the surprise that freelance writer should be among those who need to supplement their income thusly?

Apr. 20 2011 12:08 PM

worked at century 21 Xmas time many years ago when I needed money. Was appalled by the terrible working conditions. NEVER allowed to sit down, supervisor checking in & out for 1/2 hr. lunch break, which took about 20 minutes just to get down to the awful basement lunchroom. etc. etc.

Apr. 20 2011 12:04 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Whomever coined the phrase "the customer is always right" was a complete and utter moron.

Honestly, I find some of the comments here a bit surprising considering the financial crisis we continue to be in. Must be comments from people lucky enough to have not been effected at all...

The "slumming" it comments are just stupid. Lots of people are "slumming it" and "whining" by that definition. Ridiculous!

Apr. 20 2011 12:04 PM
susy from Manhattan

It's true. When you work retail, no matter how or why you find yourself there, you realize how poorly retail workers are treated by the public.

Whether or not there was a book idea in the making, having worked retail myself, I'm sure the author was compelled to use her experience as a topic that needed to be shared.

Why does it matter what her motives were or were not? She is offering firsthand experience regarding a topic and way of life that is not often explored, and should be.

Apr. 20 2011 12:01 PM
Ginzberg from Pittsburgh

OK. I just "got a grip" on the off button on my radio!

Oh, and now she distances herself from Nickel and Dimed. Hope she enjoys a continued career in retailing.

Apr. 20 2011 12:00 PM
i from nj

Was a retail "hag" in my 20's . Have professional position as well. Now additionally working part time for a large upscale dept store. Corporate babysitting as well as mistrust of all employees is the reason for the turnover.

Apr. 20 2011 11:59 AM
Tamkat from Brooklyn

The best way to educate people about retail workers, and other people in "service industries" is to have the experience yourself - once you've worked behind a counter you know and appreciate how hard it is. And teach your kids respect for all working people - workers aren't on earth just to make your life easier - they are working their butts off to support themselves and their families. I teach my kids to treat workers with respect, always.

Apr. 20 2011 11:59 AM

OK. I just "got a grip" on the off button on my radio!

Oh, and now she distances herself from Nickel and Dimed. Hope she enjoys a continued career in retailing.

Apr. 20 2011 11:59 AM

yes, it is to share your whiny little store! You get over yourself!

Apr. 20 2011 11:59 AM

Yeah, make sure everyone knows your job in retail was "unintentional." Because we should all understand that Ms. Kelly is really way to well-educated and over-qualified to be ever intentionally be in such a crappy job. That's for the lower echelon, right Caitlin?

Apr. 20 2011 11:57 AM
Andi from Manhattan

After graduating cum laude from Duke, I worked at a store in the mall while applying for jobs. My biggest challenge was dealing with corporate policies that did not allow me to think for myself when helping customers. It was very frustrating for b oth me adn the customer who was greeted 5 times in as many minutes.

Apr. 20 2011 11:57 AM
RN from Brooklyn from Brooklyn, NY

It's not just retail anymore. People treat their nurse's just like barristas, too. I work in a hospital at night and people sometimes do the same finger-snapping and bossing around without respect (get me more ice in this cup etc.)

Apr. 20 2011 11:56 AM
Patricia from FH

The reason customers think they can snap their fingers and get what they want from either a waiter, manicurist...whomever is because as a society we believe "the customer is always right". What a load! Customers are dead wrong and can be very rude!

Apr. 20 2011 11:56 AM
Kas from Brooklyn

I agree with some above that I'm wondering what the point really is with this book? That it's yucky to work for a living? Hello!
This is another example of journalists who think what happens to them is important, just because --it's happened to them.

Apr. 20 2011 11:56 AM
Totally bewildered

Excuse me - is this woman trying to say that retail jobs aren't horrible? I can only imagine she feels that way because her job actually ended.

I worked in retail for several years to pay for college. One of those jobs was at Banana Republic at 59th and Lexington. As a white, female student, I was very much in the minority - 80% of the workers were black adults who had this job to support their families. Despite the fact that I was hired part-time and they were hired full-time, I was routinely given 28 hours a week while they were given 14. My complaints about this were totally shot down. That aside from the low pay, cramped conditions, constant pressure to meet sales goals without even getting a commission...

Do we all "learn to get along"? Sure, I guess. But that doesn't mean it doesn't suck.

Apr. 20 2011 11:56 AM
carolita from new york city

I did retail when I was in college, in Henri Bendel and in a Soho boutique. I also worked in the Trump Tower mall, in a chocolate boutique. Retail is a great way to justify all those years of faking it in school, ie being "good" and doing what you're supposed to do, even if none of it has any meaning to you. You get the same bullies, the same prissies, the same butt-kissing, the same ephemeral camaraderie with colleagues. Just like school. Crappy way to make a living, but it's better than working in Dunkin Donuts, which was my first job, for two weeks.

Apr. 20 2011 11:53 AM
Connor from London, UK

I'm with you Caitlin! Degree in Mandarin, ex BBC, and a year ago I couldn't find work, so I donned the blue T-shirt of the Apple Store. Great experience, fantastic colleagues, and and meeting people (customers) whom I would never have otherwise met.
And it was always fun seeing a colleague's jaw drop when they learned I was 150% of their age!

Apr. 20 2011 11:52 AM
Gary from Upper Left Side

Poor former Daily News reporter. You had to deal with rude customers, sweetie? Perhaps it's karma for spreading gossip and rumors in a newspaper.

Apr. 20 2011 11:49 AM

..and, I guess she never worked a retail job to pay for school....sounds that way to me--otherwise she wouldn't be so shocked.

Brian, I really hate these segments, I wish y'all would skip 'em.

Apr. 20 2011 11:48 AM
J.D. from west village

Yeah, another princess slumming for a book and movie deal and telling most of America how really really hard their lives are. Please.

Apr. 20 2011 11:47 AM

So sick of these reporters going undercover to the other side to give "American's the "SCOOP" about how working stiffs fare. Just interview the REAL folks living this reality everyday--believe me they won't lie to you about how hard it is to make a living.

Studs Turkel never had to resort to such B.S.

Get over yourselves, what you're doing does NOTHING for the working class folks!

Apr. 20 2011 11:44 AM
Edward from NJ

I'm sure it *never* occurred to her that she might get a book deal out of her "unintentional" career.

Apr. 20 2011 11:06 AM

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