There have been previous references in this space to the struggles retail and dining establishments are having.
Lord knows I am not much of a shopper, confining most of my outings in which I might purchase something to either a grocery or hardware store. But a few months ago, my wife, in the kindest way she could, suggested it might be time for me to consider some new clothing items.
Since I started working from home full-time in March of last year, it’s not like I need a variety of clothes. My daily standard is shorts, a pullover shirt, baseball cap and flip-flops (if I wear shoes at all.) For video calls, I lose the cap and throw on a shirt with a collar (and shave if it’s been a few days.)
At lunch time, when I relocate from my home office to the conference room (also known as the kitchen), these work clothes suffice. That’s when my spouse occasionally catches a glimpse of me, and I can’t blame her if she tires of seeing the same thing over and over.
(I should pause here and explain how this might have been a recurring theme over the 37 years we have been married. During that time, she has wisely developed a “choose your battles” policy, only bringing it up when she deems it a dire situation.)
A year ago, I would have argued I had nowhere to go, and might have challenged her. But back in the spring, after we had both been vaccinated and we were getting out more, I agreed she had a point. If someone invites me for dinner, I should dress in a way that says I appreciate the invitation.
I’m not much for ordering clothes online, as I like to see something and maybe try it on before I make the purchase. I’m not good at looking at size charts and such.
But after I conceded to my wife and went to a couple of places to look for clothes, I decided I must be in the minority. Inventory was scant, and presentation was, well, kind of sad. As I said, I’m no shopper, but I seem to remember, years ago, clothes being displayed on mannequins, or simulated torsos or legs, to entice buyers.
More than once, I just knew something would look as good on me as it did displayed on a plastic figure in the middle of the men’s department.
That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I had to go through racks and piles, and what was there did not grab me – to say the least.
Employees of these establishments were nice enough, but when I told one lady what I was looking for (which was a basic polo shirt that millions of men in this country wear, or so I thought), she heaved a sigh, waved her hand as if to point in a general direction – or send me on my way -- and said, “I’m afraid we don’t have much to choose from right now.”
While I’m sure this has something to do with COVID and the so-called supply chain, I struggle to understand. You’re a clothing store and you don’t have much to choose from?
With some effort, I managed to buy a few things, probably not as much as my wife would prefer (I tried, Honey, and remember that thing about choosing your battles), but it was not easy.
As for places we dine away from home, there is no question they were hit hard by the pandemic. From my observation, it appears if they were able to survive (and many did by upping their game in takeout and curbside pickup), they are now having trouble keeping servers and staff.
When I walk in and see plenty of empty tables, only to be told there will be a half-hour to an hour wait, it’s hard to swallow.
But no, I don’t argue with the seating hostess and point to tables right there in front of me, as if she doesn’t know about them. I accept the fact there are not enough bodies to perform the tasks necessary to run a restaurant at full capacity, and I wait.
These folks have my sympathies. I hope this levels out and we don’t lose some of our favorite places because of it.
And to an extent, I feel that way about the retail places, too.
Stores and restaurants provide jobs and fuel the local economy. If they don’t make it, in a very real sense, it hurts all of us. (And I don’t want to be forced to order clothes online.)
I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to own or run these places. I worked in retail many years ago, and I experienced just enough exposure to the general public to learn it is not easy.
All I would offer are some very well-intentioned suggestions.
When possible, make your stores somewhat attractive, and please don’t have salespeople standing around staring into space. Please teach them, if they don’t know the answer to a patron’s question, how to go up the chain of command to get an answer.
And to all sales folks, cashiers and wait staff: please remember your manners. When I place my order or pay for my purchase, a simple “thank you” goes a long way. And when I thank you, all you need to say is, “you’re welcome.”
It’s much better than the increasingly ubiquitous “no problem,” which makes my skin crawl.
No problem?! No, I would not think so.
You have a job and, by virtue of my being there with you initiating a transaction, I am helping you keep that job. We should be mutually appreciative.
When you say, “no problem,” you are implying in some instances it very well could be, but in this case, it is not, and you are doing me the biggest of favors by completing your end of the bargain by taking my order or counting out my change.
That might not be what you intend to say, but it is what I hear, especially when you say it without even looking at me.
So those are my humble suggestions. The fact is I’m rooting for all you.
I want you to stay in business and thrive, and I am hoping that will, in fact, be no problem.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].