A frank look into the world of low-paying retail work.
Following her unexpected dismissal from the New York Daily News, Kelly pursued freelancing writing. Though she wrote for numerous national publications, one year of chasing paychecks and working alone was enough—she wanted something “simple and steady.” When a branch of The North Face opened in a mall near her home, the author signed on as a part-time sales associate. Initially, Kelly enjoyed her work, easily connecting with customers, and she regularly exceeded her sales goals. For a time, “being needed, being relied upon, even for simple tasks at low wage, was a balm to my soul.” Eventually, however, the relentless corporate demands, spoiled and wealthy customers, chaotic working conditions and low wages diminished Kelly’s intellectual and creative zest. Though data reveals that 50 percent of those hired for retail positions are gone within 90 days, the author stayed at The North Face for more than two years. In parsing her work experiences, Kelly often arrives at blunt and depressing insights about her working conditions. She weaves in disconcerting stories and facts collected from retail workers outside her store, widening her narrative lens. Kelly deftly pulls back the cleverly constructed curtain between the shiny, corporate image presented to mall shoppers and the degrading work environment inhabited by the individuals toiling behind the counter. “Working as a retail associate,” she writes, “means being reminded daily that you’re merely one tiny cog in an enormous global machine, from the workers six time zones away stitching apparel to the equally invisible, distant CEO collecting millions. You’re completely disposable.”
Despite occasional repetition, a startling story of one reporter’s extended peek into a brutish new world order.