Inside looking out: Stand up for convenience store workers
The line in the dollar store was 15 deep and only one register was open. Two young employees were trying frantically to open another that had been disabled with computer problems.
“This place is a joke,” shouted a man from way in the back of the line.
“Daddy, why is there so much stuff everywhere?” asked his little girl.
“That’s because the people who work here are lazy,” shouted the man so loud that everyone could hear.
I stood behind the man holding my one item while biting my tongue long enough. “Do you come in here often?” I asked him quietly. He smirked at me.
“No I don’t, and after standing in this stupid line, I’ll never come in here again.”
“Well, I stop here enough to know this store is usually understaffed and sometimes no one is at the register.”
“They’re probably all in the back room drinking coffee.”
“No,” I replied. “The one young girl I see who works here is somewhere in the aisles stocking shelves, and when she sees you at the register, she’ll shout, ‘Be right there!’ ”
“So what’s your point?” the man asks as he moves one step closer to the checkout.
“My point is that the employees are mostly young people or retirees. They work for minimum wage or a little above. They have jobs. No one forced them to work here.”
“They should be fired for not doing their jobs,” he said. “No wonder dollar stores are the pits.”
I stared through his smirk and said,” At least they’re not home sitting on the couch with nothing to do, complaining they have no money or asking their parents for some cash so they can hang out at the ice cream place or the sub shop. You see the lady at the register? She looks like she’s in her 60s or 70s. You hear how nice she talks to her customers? You see the young lady trying to open up the other register? She’s always polite when I come here. Always with a smile on her face.”
“So you think you know all about them?” he asked with a sarcastic laugh.
“Here’s what I do know for sure,” I answered. “They work weekends, nights and holidays when most of their friends are probably hanging out or running the streets or on the couch watching TV.
“And here’s another thing I know for sure,” I said as he was now behind just one customer from the register. “You see her smiling at that customer, and did you hear her say, ‘Have a great day?’ She’s going to give you the same courtesies when it’s your turn to check out.”
He smirked at me again, paid for his items and never said thank you to the cashier when she told him to have a nice day.
I’ve heard many teens and young adults say they would never work in a convenience store or a fast-food restaurant. They say it’s too beneath their pride and the pay stinks.
There are job postings nearly every day for McDonalds, Burger King, The Dollar Store, Dunkin’ Donuts and gas station stop and shops, and yet we all frequent and utilize these stores. I usually see the same faces behind the counters or in the aisles tending to customers who come in to buy everything from lottery tickets to sandwiches to cigarettes.
I have witnessed a customer bring up merchandise to check out and have one or two credit cards get rejected. The employee behind the counter patiently waits and kindly assists the customer who fumbles through still another card. The two of them work out which card will pay for the items even if it means putting back some of the merchandise.
These convenience and fast food workers give their customers a big splash of kindness and another splash of compassion for little pay in return. Some work alone after the midnight hour when the occasional drunk stumbles into the store or thief sneaks unto the back to fill up his pockets. Part-time employees are fortunate if they can net 100 bucks a week from their checks and they get little or no other benefits.
My affection for these employees comes from my own experience working at a Quick Chek store in New Jersey when I was 18. I remember one Christmas Day when I put in a 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. shift and the refrigeration system had broken down the night before when the store was closed.
I had spent much of the day throwing out sour milk containers into a dumpster while gagging through the stench that stayed in my nose for days. When I was tossing out the last few cartons I was summoned to the register to help bag. Back and forth I hustled for my long shift while earning less than 20 bucks on Christmas Day!
There ought to be a day and a time set when everyone who happens to be in a fast food or convenience store should stop for a moment and applaud loudly for these unappreciated and underpaid employees. They deserve our respect and not our scorn.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.