Tuesday, September 11, 2012


During my recovery, I've had plenty of time to read! One of the most interesting books I've read recently was Malled by Caitlin Kelly.

Ms Kelly was a journalist, about 50 years old, when she began working for the North Face in a mall in Westchester County, New York. She had previously been employed full-time as a journalist, but had begun doing primarily freelance work when she decided that something structured would be a good addition to her life! She chose a path in retail, probably before it would have been possible to understand just what was going to happen when the economy began receding. This book was very interesting and a pretty quick read. I would highly recommend it!

As some of you might remember, I worked in retail while I was in high school, at a little shop that was a competitor of Hallmark. I sold collectibles and cards, and worked in the mall, just like lots of other kids from the suburbs. I quit the job because it interfered with the extracurricular activities I had on my plate, though it was a good experience because having retail on your resume is ubiquitous. Kelly's experiences were similar to mine: retail is not the path to upward mobility whether in the company or in society more generally.

I think the most interesting aspect of this book actually was not the author's "under-cover" reporting about her experiences working at the North Face. In addition, she researched her book by meeting with company officials and sales associates at luxury retailers. This small sliver of society included some people who work retail for a living as a career! These chapters allowed her to explore what makes someone a good fit for retail and what kinds of things allow a retail job to become a career. Not shopping at luxury retailers, and never having seriously considered retail as a long-term career path, it hadn't occurred to me to imagine that there are some people who spend a career in this industry and what that might look like.

I think the best take-away lesson from this book was the author's experience of being "invisible" as a sales associate. She explains several instances of when she was treated exceptionally rudely by customers shopping at the store, and she noted that there are probably some other retailers where the treatment by the customers is even worse. I think the author, as a middle-aged person with some other work experience behind her, was uniquely positioned to notice this treatment as invisible. While I was a sales associate at age 16, I was treated like I was invisible, but I assumed that was related to my age more than anything (which may well have been true). As I've been out and about shopping lately, I've certainly thought about how I interact with the staff. While it's never been my custom to be rude to staff at shops, this book definitely reminded me that I don't know anything at all about the people working there. I might be inclined to make judgments about them based on the fact that they work as sales associates, but I really should try to avoid that. Someday soon, the employees at any particular store might become my friends, my neighbors, my co-workers or even my fellow customers. 

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