Every time I’ve tried to go to my nearby Dollar Tree the past week or so, it had closed early due to lack of staff. I was getting frustrated because, as I’ve noted before, this unique chain of stores is the modern-day equivalent of the beloved dime stores of my youth, so close in fact to the experience and merchandise selection (updated slightly for the 21st century) that the entire retrial experience is uncanny, and brings back a flood of memories. No other store can do this.
The circle is unbroken here. I loved going to Woolworth, Kress, and TG&Y when I was a kid, and today, six decades later, I love tossing things I both need, and certainly don’t need, into my basket at Dollar Tree. I’m also able to spend more lavishly because when I was a kid, I had only a quarter in allowance money, so I had to be extremely selective.
So yesterday, despite the miserable heat wave that saw our heat index temps rise to 107 that afternoon, I needed to get out somewhere because I’d been in all day. Having the best intentions in the world to get there well before the store closed early again at 5, I raced over there, running late leaving my apartment, but still arriving with six minutes to spare. This was a mistake.
I dashed in, grabbed a basket, and, since I know the layout of the store almost exactly and where everything is, I raced around tossing this and that in the basket, because after five minutes the store had closed and I needed to be in one of the checkout lanes, which unfortunately were about 8-20 customers long each.
Seizing this extra time, I added more things to the cart: a packet of blue pens; some treats for my brother’s cat; a can of chicken and dumplings (impulse buy for sure); scrub sponges, which I frequently replace; small and very cheap, but not bad looking, frames for some of my photos, and a pure kitsch, miniature faux canvas landscape oil painting that I think was $1, but it might have been $3 since not everything in Dollar Tree is a dollar anymore. What did I care? It’s was an entirely unexpected treasure.
I was one of the last customers in the checkout lane, and from the look on the clerk’s face, I could tell emphatically that I did not have favored customer status that hot summer day at closing time. Remember, I really and truly didn’t mean to cut it so close, but I was determined to get in there and drop some money on fun, simple-minded and stress-free purchases.
But the clerk, an older lady who clearly was stressed out, and obviously couldn’t wait to get out of that place, was in no mood for the sometimes lighthearted banter I engage the checkout clerks with there, particularly after a successful shopping venture at the store and some nice surprise purchases. But really, what can you lose when most everything is only a dollar?
As I was placing my items on the checkout counter, the customer ahead of me was picking up her bag of purchases and had to get a few words in before she left. She was irritated that the store was closing so early these days.
“Are these going to be your new permanent hours?” She bleated to the weary clerk.
“We can’t get people to work here,” the clerk replied with exasperation.
“That’s the problem,” the customer retorted. “People don’t want to work. I say, if you want something, you gotta work for it,” she then fumed.
“You’re so right,” the clerk said. “People think they’re entitled to everything.”
“You have a good day,” the customer said as she was leaving.
“You, too,” the clerk responded, completely simpatico with the customer.
All this time I’m listening to these two ladies gripe, I wanted to practically shout, “Yeah, pay them a living wage and maybe they’ll gladly work” (even though a low-wage job in one of those stores is probably the pits). But, not wanting to create a scene because I had not exactly endeared myself to the two employees holding down the entire fort, I bit my tongue but almost slipped up, quickly fantasizing this next scene.
“Pardon me, but I’m retired and looking for a little part time work. How much is the starting pay here?” $8, $9 an hour max, I was guessing. Sighs. Another lost opportunity.
My turn at checkout was completely uneventful until I had picked up my filled-to-the-brim bag full of dime-store-style purchases, and made my way to the door, which the moody clerk had locked so “no one would try to sneak in.” “Gosh, that could have been me,” I thought to myself, rather sheepishly.
Of course, I couldn’t get out, so I turned to the clerk, checking out the last customer in the store, and plaintively exclaimed, “It won’t open.”
“Pull the doors apart,” she practically barked.
So I tried prying the doors open, again to no avail.
She hurried over quickly and began pulling on them, and, being much taller, I offered to help, reaching to the top of the doors and yanking a bit too hard.
Next thing you know, the doors are coming loose and completely off their track for a split second. I had visions of the entire thing tumbling down to the sidewalk, glass shattering in a tumult of jagged shards. “Oh, no! You sure screwed that up,” the clerk testily barked at me again before the door miraculously opened.
“Mercy me, I’m sorry,” I said with mock sincerity, instantly realizing I thought the whole thing was quite amusing but that I probably sounded a bit snarky. Me, of all people.
When I was finally let out, I told her, “Thank you so very much.” Again, I thought, “Oh no, can you stop the snarkiness and just get the heck out of there?”
“You have a very nice day,” the clerk said in a normal tone of voice, which betrayed her evident contempt for me. Or, maybe she was just real tired and easily upset after a long day at that severely short-handed Dollar Tree, dealing with clumsy customers who are clueless about what it’s like to work there.
Moral of the story: “Don’t ever go to ANY store at closing time, because these days, you enter at your own risk.