Last summer I let you all know that alongside this side hustle I have a job in retail:
Working in retail is a mixed bag; there are days where I love my job and days where I could slam my head in a fitting room door. Maybe one day I’ll tell you some of the nightmare stories my coworkers and I have collected (trust me, we could fill books with these stories).
But right now, working in retail is a bit of a different monster. I have only been back at work for four weeks and things have changed, to say the least. Work protocols are different, how we clean the store, how we engage with customers, how we interact as a staff team. Everything has been turned upside down and sometimes that’s really overwhelming.
Doing all this makes me 3 million times more sympathetic to frontline workers. People who have been working at this since day one. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, grocery store employees, liquor store employees. People who haven’t been given a break, but simply thrust into this situation that nobody asked for.
Retail workers – especially in Ontario – have only been at this for a little bit. We’re only back at work because the world is attempting to right itself, we are trying to open back up. We are only the result of more lenient rules. And I think that’s where the issue is. Before, the world was black and white. What was okay and what wasn’t was set in stone, but with the world opening the door just a little, it has created a grey area. And people love to play in the grey area.
So, I want to let you all know what I – a retail worker – want you – the customer – to know.
(1) I am nervous.
Honestly, I started out more than nervous. I started out scared. And part of it was less scared for me than it was for other people. What if I cleaned something incorrectly and that led to an outbreak? What if I got sick and brought it home to my family? My mind was running wild with a series of “worst case scenarios” and it was terrifying.
And the fear has subsided, but there is still a general nervousness that exists. An unease that persists, because for four months I was told “stay inside and don’t see people” and now I’m outside and I’m seeing people. It feels…wrong. So please know that I’m nervous. All I ask is that you’re respectful of that.
(2) Wear a mask.
Firstly, I’m not going to have an argument with you right now about the true and statistically proven reality that masks reduce the spread of coronavirus. That isn’t even a discussion to be had.
Secondly, in Toronto it’s now a bylaw to wear a mask in indoor, public spaces which has made my life infinitely easier. But somehow, people still heckle me about it. So, I feel we should clear somethings up.
I have asthma, I carry an inhaler, my lungs are shitty at being lungs. I also have anxiety, and restricted airflow often leads to panic attacks which is why I’ve had multiple panic attacks while exercising, specifically skiing. However, for 7+ hours a day, I wear a mask. Because I can breathe while wearing a mask. And if I can do it, you can too.
Plus, I’m not even the one enforcing the mask policy. My company is, the municipal government is, Health Canada is, so don’t bring your woes to me. I make minimum wage and frankly couldn’t give fewer shits that you are upset about wearing a mask, there is nothing I can do about it. I get mask-acne and a sweaty face and dry lips. I don’t particularly enjoy wearing a mask, but I do it to protect other people, so please do the same.
(3) We’re just trying to keep you safe.
I know the cleaning and the waiting in line and the excessive hand sanitizer seems redundant. But we’re doing it to keep you safe. Let’s do some basic math here:
In Toronto, everyone is allowed a bubble of 10 people.
My store can see an average of 600 people come through in one day (during the pandemic).
If each person has a bubble of 10 people and 600 people come through the store, the germs from upwards of 6,000 people come through the store every day. Plus the employees, plus mall security, plus all the people you interact with while you’re in the mall. What I’m saying is, ew, our store is full of germs. Full of bacteria and microbes and viruses that aren’t the coronavirus, plus (potentially) the coronavirus.
Frankly, my life would be easier if I didn’t have to spend 2 hours in the morning wiping down every shelf, table, and hanger in the store. But I do. It would be more convenient if I could stand right next to you to help you shop. But I can’t. I’m not doing this to make my life easier, I’m doing this to make your life safer.
(4) Be polite.
I know how exhausting it is to have employees tell you to wear your mask properly, or get offered hand sanitizer 30 times in one day, but your frustration doesn’t give you the right to call me:
A bitch, stupid, or a fucking idiot.
Nor does it mean you can tell me:
To go fuck myself or to go to hell.
And you may be thinking to yourself those seem extreme. However, those are all real things that have been said to me or my friends in the last four weeks. The upheaval of normal society doesn’t give you permission to be rude. If anything, we should be kinder to one another. Take this as a reminder that humans are simply humans and we need to support each other. Yesterday, I offered a woman hand sanitizer and she looked at me and said, “Can you not? I don’t need fucking sanitizer.” When, “No thank you, I’m good” is a perfectly respectable response.
Remember what the intentions are behind our actions. And maybe that will remind you that we’re not pestering you to be annoying, we’re pestering you to keep you safe.
(5) I’m happy to be back at work.
Despite all this, I am happy to be back at work. It feels like an inkling of normal. It feels like a light at the end of the tunnel, even though we still have a long way to go.
But I’m happy to be talking to people. That’s why I got into retail, to talk to people, and I get to do that now. I had a 15-minute conversation with a girl yesterday about boutique shopping in different cities and it was the highlight of my day.
I’m happy to see my friends. My coworkers and people I wouldn’t get to see otherwise. I’ve worked with a lot of these people for 4 years and being back with them makes me happy. Sure, we don’t go for drinks after work anymore and we can’t all hang out at my house, but I get to see them and for right now that’s enough.
Plus, in a situation where so many people are out of work, I’m grateful to have a job.
Which brings me to the end. Yes, this is just my opinion, but I know I have friends who feel similar. I know my sister (who works for a different company) feels anxious at work. I know my boss wants you to wear a mask. I know friend is pretty stressed about keeping things clean because she just wants to keep you safe. I know these sentiments are not just my own.
So, go out and shop. Put something back into the economy, treat yourself, get out into the world, feel even a little normal for a day. Shop for whatever your reason is. But please respect the people who work in the stores, because they’re tired and sweaty and have mask-acne and are nervous and, at the end of the day, they’re people too.
From me, with love, to you,
-Victoria Want You To Know
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