Last spring, I took a part-time job as a clerk at the venerable retailer Sears, Roebuck & Co. at the Southern Hills Mall.
I took the job partly out of economic necessity, as I found myself perpetually broke, and partly because I had grown bored on my weekends and thought Sears would be a good fit.
Before I began the job, I imagined cashiering at Sears as thus: Standing lackadaisically at the register, expending no more energy than a cactus might, drinking coffee as needed and using my phone a lot. How many customers could there be?
Surely, it would be a perfect job for someone as motivated as I.
The reality was quite a little different. The store was busier than I hoped (though not by much), but, more important, I found interactions with customers very stressful: the store viewed every transaction as an opportunity to sell a Sears credit card, and it was imperative to pester them to use Shop Your Way, Sears' customer loyalty program.
It was very, very important to get credit card applications -- as many as possible. I understood instinctively why Sears wanted us to sell more credit cards, but I could not bring myself to really try and foist the damn things upon innocent customers.
Massive debt is what got Sears in this mess; should I really work to shift the burden to some poor sap buying clothes?
After the closure was announced, I began keeping a diary of everything that happened as the store's life came to a close. The following are some of my entries from the beginning of the Great Liquidation to the end.
Monday, Dec. 31, 2018
Announced late last week our Sears would be closing.
Mood in store today hard to describe. Not entirely morose, but certainly not happy. I suppose no one is shocked.
Brad (store manager) says credit card applications and Shop Your Way are now essentially optional. I expected as much.
Cashiers not impressed with behavior of customers over the weekend. Very rude in many cases, at least one customer laughed in the face of a cashier about our closing. Brad says we all need to grow thick skin over the next few months.
Store was torn apart over the weekend. Shoe department looks awful.
Lori (another cashier) continues to fight the good fight, still trying to get customers to apply for Sears cards. Can't say as much for myself. She says she loved working at Sears. Can't say as much for myself.
Tuesday, Jan. 15
Have to learn to be more combative to handle these customers who (wrongly) expect to get a good deal during the early phases of the liquidation "sale."
Monday, Jan. 21
The following will sound callous and unsentimental, but it is the truth, for me at least: There has never been a better time to be a part-time Sears clerk. They just raised our hourly wages to $11 an hour (a $2-an-hour raise for me). An angry customer comes in wanting to return something? Look at your receipt: "All Sales Final." We want to get rid of the merchandise, not have it all come marching back in here.
Monday, Feb. 4
There is increasingly an "us-versus-them" mentality among cashiers/management with respect to customers. We now see them as barbarian hordes come to wreck the store. And they really do make a colossal mess of the place. I enjoy this new camaraderie with my fellow workers.
Tuesday, Feb. 12
We had some real clowns in the store today. Two women came to my register with many pairs of underwear and demanded to get them free, because they saw something somewhere in the store that said items under $5 are free (we later found this message, and it turned out that it was part of a larger message that said items incorrectly scanned, which cost less than $5, are free).
They rudely demanded their free underwear, telling me they won't buy them if they're not free, and treating me like an idiot for not handing over the goods. They demanded a manager.
Finally I got one to come over (most of the managers are now too busy for this kind of stupidity), and she told the women, "If it makes you feel better, take 'em!"
Tuesday, Feb. 19
Store very empty now. They've strategically concentrated much of the merchandise in the center part of the store, and all the walls and the outlying areas are totally barren. Customers continue to make a mess, throwing clothing around if it doesn't fit or if it doesn't please their caveman sensibilities.
Most every customer asks when we're closing and many ask if we've found new jobs. Some seem to think we're not really closing, because they saw something on TV about Eddie Lampert prevailing in the Sears bankruptcy. I would invite them to come see the store on March 11.
Monday, Feb. 25
Apparently those ladies who demanded their free underwear came back within the last week or so. Lori told them where to go. Good job, Lori.
Store more than three-fourths empty now. A surprising amount of clothing remains. Most all the customers now are cheapskates who hope to buy a huge pile of clothing for next to nothing.
Lori suggested the soon-to-be-empty Sears space could be used for paintball. At least somebody's thinking outside the box, my suggestion all this time has been to bulldoze the place. She asked me today if I'll miss Sears. I told her I'll miss her, for what that's worth.
Monday, March 4
Today was quite the commotion at the store. In the morning, Lori told me of a $1,000 theft reported last weekend. Apparently, it was discussed at our morning meeting, which I was at, but I wasn't listening. Then one of the other cashiers (who I won't name here) came in and asked where the manager was, which I did not know the answer to. Then she went to talk to Lori for a moment, before pointing to a small crevice at the back of a cash register and saying, "What's that in there?"
Lori, using pliers, pulled out a wad of $600 from the little, hard-to-notice opening. Then the other cashier went back and had a meeting with managers, then the cops came. Supposedly she was arrested, and I guess she'd been stealing for a while before she broke down and confessed.
On a more positive note, a number of Buddhist monks with their neat orange robes came into the store today. One of them bought four neckties. I wonder what a monk needs with all those ties.
Store is basically empty now. There's nothing to do.
Lori doesn't work tomorrow. She gave me a hug before she left.
Tuesday, March 5
Today was my last regularly-scheduled day at Sears.
Ivy (another cashier) and I spent much of today gossiping about our recently arrested colleague. Very, very little to do in the store now -- it's almost completely empty. Spent a goodly bit of the day sitting on the checkout stand. It was the kind of day at Sears I'd always dreamed of.
Hard to describe my feelings about the closure. It was kind of like the last day of school, except the school is closing permanently.