As some of you might know, I worked in retail for many years, 6 of them (January 1996 to October 2001, so almost 6) at Nordstrom. I loved retail, and loved working for Nordstrom, and I often say that if the hours and pay were better, many more people would work in retail, because it’s so much fun. The hours and the pay being what they are, however, I left Nordstrom and retail life right after I had my first child.
I started at Nordstrom as a Customer Service Representative in the King of Prussia Mall store right outside Philadelphia, about 6 weeks before the store opened. CSRs were the problem-solvers in the store, and we dealt with employees just as much as we dealt with customers. Your cash register doesn’t work? Call Customer Service. Tailor Shop can’t find your customer’s suit? Call Customer Service. You get the idea. It’s very fast-paced, and a lot of fun, if you have the attitude and temperament. If you don’t, then it’s miserable. I liked it very much.
After about a year in Customer Service, I was promoted to Personnel. Another year later, I was promoted to Customer Service Manager when the manager who’d hired me decided not to come back after her maternity leave (exactly what I myself would do almost 4 years later).
This particular story takes place in the second Nordstrom store I worked in, Montgomery Mall, in the DC suburbs. I was the Manager in Charge (“MIC”) that evening. Every store has a Store Manager, and then there are department managers, who take turns being MIC in the evenings, and on the SM’s day off. Some managers hated being MIC, because angry customers who demand the SM are the responsibility of the MIC. Me? After several years in Customer Service, MIC calls were nothing to me. During my late pregnancy, I REALLY enjoyed MIC calls; I worked my expanding waistline and just-about-to-drop waddle for all it was worth. Call me Chief Gunderson…I’d lumber up to the angry customer as slowly as possible, sometimes breathing a little heavily for effect. It never failed. But I digress.
On this particular evening (I was pregnant, but not really visibly so yet), I was walking the store, talking to employees. I stopped by Women’s Shoes to chat with Singh, who had just been promoted to assistant manager in that department. (Most of the names in these stories will be changed, but Singh was Singh. He was Sikh, and Sikh men always have “Singh”, which means “Tiger”, as a middle name. Singh’s first name was difficult to pronounce in his opinion, so he told everyone to address him as Singh). Singh was one of my favorite-ever employees. He’d been around for 6 months or so, and had made friends with everyone from the store manager to the Café dishwashers. Customers absolutely adored him. He always wore a traditional Sikh headdress, along with a western suit and tie, and had a sharp wit combined with a kind heart and a lovely accent. Everyone loved Singh. The Personnel person who first interviewed him had told me that he’d almost hired him on the spot during the screening interview. Typically, the interviewer would ask the prospective employee if he was interested in any particular department. The shoe departments, especially women’s, were extremely busy and the work was hard, physically and otherwise, but for the best salespeople, the commissions can be huge. Shoe employees were always affectionately referred to as “shoe dogs”. Anyway, Singh had been referred by a friend who had urged him to try to get into Women’s Shoes. So when asked if he had a preference for which department he’d like to work in, Singh smiled broadly, and said in his charming accent “Yes please. I wish to be a shoe dog.”
When it first got out that I was expecting my first child, I came into work on 2 separate days, and found little gifts of fruit, accompanied by Singh’s business card, on my desk. On the second day, I was a little worried that he might be becoming overly friendly…then I learned that his wife was pregnant, and that he was also leaving similar gifts for 2 other pregnant women in the store. One day it was little boxes of raisins, another day it was clementines, another, it was a little bag of almonds. When I thanked Singh, he told me that he worried about all the pregnant ladies working on their feet all day. His wife had an office job and could rest, but what about all of us? He could at least make sure we had snacks to keep us going. He was really just an extraordinarily kind person.
As I mentioned earlier, Singh was also disarmingly funny. I’m walking through the store, and stop to chat and see how the evening is going in Women’s Shoes. This was mid-January, 2001, a few days before George W. Bush’s first inauguration. So when I asked Singh how business was, he said that he was selling lots of evening shoes for the balls, and lots of boots for the parade. “You know,” I said, “strangely enough, I have not received any invitations.” Without missing a beat, Singh said “I’ll make some calls. I’ll pull some strings. I’m owed favors in many high places.” We were chuckling about that, when Brian (not his real name), a regional Loss Prevention manager who was visiting stopped by to chat. He and I had worked together at KoP and were friendly. I asked him if he was planning extra security at the Pentagon City store on Inauguration Day…they had all kinds of events going on that day for their customers who were attending events, including drive-up service to pick up altered suits and dresses. Brian, a Republican, who was well acquainted with my political views, said “Come on Claire (my real name, btw), this is REPUBLICANS. There won’t be any shoplifting!” In one of my favorite comebacks ever, I said “Oh right…they just stole an election, so why would they need to bother stealing pashminas?” (Parenthetical: Although pregnant, I was still quick on the uptake. That’s all over now. I might still come up with that comeback in a similar situation today, but it would be at least 2 days after the fact. Sigh.) Singh waited until the big regional manager left, then held up his hand and said “up high, miss! Good one!”