Retail Therapy #3
This story needs no introduction, it's from a former retail assistant named Phil and it's a gem...
Many years ago I worked in a shoe shop in a rural town in South Antrim. It is a big enough town, there are a few pubs, a couple of shopping centres (one on a hill) and a church hall or two. The shop I worked in wasn't Harrods, not by a long shot. It was on a fairly regular main street filled with boy racers, elderly folk with baskets on wheels and about seven other shoe shops. One day we counted how many circuits one particular boy racer did of the town, we set up a staff rota to ensure accuracy. He passed 57 times in one afternoon. This is no lie.
The manager of the shop was a gentle soul nearing retirement, watching his days (and boy racers) whiz by while thinking of the pleasures of backgammon and Philomena Begley, although these things may not be related. He had remarkable systems in place to make sure nothing ever went wrong, there was a specific set of rules for the stockroom, one for the shop floor and another for any financial dealings with customers. He also had a wonderful stammer.
On this particular day I was idly moving shoes on a shelf while thinking of my other life as a rock star in order to avoid work. Our esteemed manager was reviewing his accounts behind the till. These accounts, stretching back at least 10 years, were all distilled and listed in a book he had in his possession since he joined the firm, this was the holy grail of shoe shop accounting, not to be touched upon pain of death. My first performance at Wembley (sold out with support from REM) was interrupted by a rather loud lady in a large black fur coat coming into the shop in the midst of what seemed like a hurricane. I saw the plastic bag in her hand. I knew what was coming.
As our dear manager was turning a page in his beloved book the dear woman brought the bag over her shoulder, throwing it onto the counter at a ferocious rate catching the page being turned and ripping it beautifully and poetically down the middle, somewhere between cash in and expenses. I could see the horror in our dear managers face.This wonderful lady in all her fur and money had the tongue of a welder.
She launched into a tirade that lasted nigh on 15 minutes. She told of how long she had planned the outfit for the wedding, how beautiful the bride looked, how wonderful the weather was and the untold horror of her shoes falling apart. She talked of tears and tantrums, of distress signals, emergency phone calls and borrowed sandals.
Now, our dear manager listened, nodded, hummed and haa'd in all the right places. He was courteous and respectful as we expected he should be. As this lady screamed at him I watched as he opened the bag, opened the box and inspected the horrid shoes therein. He looked up, giving me the briefest of smiles and a nod before slowly and delicately wrapping the shoes up, placing them back in the box and placing the box back in the bag. I had no idea what was going on. He listened intently until this woman had either finished her story or ran out of breath, to be honest I was so confused I'm not sure which came first.
Our manager apologised as one would imagine he might. He hoped that the shoe fiasco hadn't ruined the day, asked how the bride and groom were and wished them and the whole family circle well. Our lovely customer asked what exactly he might do to undo the horror of that fateful day. In his wonderful gentle stammer our manager apologised and said he could do nothing, that his hands were tied. He apologised again and told the dear lady that if there was to ever be a resolution to this horror story his only suggestion was that she went to the shoe shop next door where she had bought them in the first place.