Repost: Bookstore, Christmas Eve

December 24, 2013

This is the post I did for Christmas Eve about six years ago, and I’m guessing some people didn’t see it then.  I like this story, and I end up telling it a lot this time of year, so I thought I’d post it again:

Right after college, I worked in a bookstore for about three years. I worked Christmas Eve all three years, and was the closing manager for two of those years. I’ll tell you a little secret.

I loved working Christmas Eve. Just loved it.

This goes against all common sense. You think shopping at the last minute is bad, what do you think it’s like for the people working retail? The people who have to put up with all those panicked last minute shoppers?

Here’s the thing, at least for me, at least in the bookstore, which is admittedly a different kind of retail: last-minute shoppers were so very, very easy to please. It was so very easy making them happy. Someone would come in the store, let’s say a guy in his thirties, nicely dressed, clean-cut. Obviously not hurting for money. But maybe Christmas shopping just wasn’t high on his list. He has this vague idea that his parents — who he is in on the way to spending Christmas with right now — like to read, so maybe he should get them books. But after that, his brain just stops. So he runs into the bookstore, finds a clerk, and manages to stammer, “You’ve got to help me.”

And we would. Because bookstores are, for the most part, staffed by intelligent, well-read people who want nothing more than to foist vast amounts of reading material onto the public. I’d ask a few questions: What do they like to do? Fiction or non-fiction? Do they cook, garden? Do they like biographies? And after a few answers I’d usually be able to pick out a nice selection. Sometimes all I’d need to do was lead him to the right section, and his eyes would light up, and he’d have an armful of gifts in a matter of minutes. And he’d look at me with a gaze full of shining gratitude and reverently murmur, “Thank you. You’ve saved me.” Then, as he paid for his stack of books, I’d say, “We also have free gift wrapping.” His expression would turn positively beatific. It would be like the heavens opened and rays of gold shone down on him with choirs of angels singing –

Or that might have been the Christmas carols playing over the speakers.

The closer to our 6 pm Christmas Eve closing time it was, the more manic and satisfying this whole process became. When our customers at 5:58 pm on Christmas Eve said, “You’ve saved me, you’re a lifesaver,” they really really meant it, and I felt like Wonder Woman.

But it didn’t end there. I’d close the store, which took about half an hour, then go straight to my parent’s house to celebrate with them, my grandparents, and brother. Now, out of this group of people, I’m the only one who’s worked retail for any stretch of time. They all believe the nightmare stories about working retail on Christmas Eve. So I’d get there around 7 pm. The kitchen would be filled with the smells of dinner cooking. There’d be an open bottle of wine. The presents under the tree would be waiting to be opened. And I’d be awash with sympathy as soon as I walked through the door.

“Oh, you poor thing, sit down, the food’s just about ready, here’s a glass of wine. Was it very bad?” I’d make sure to have a war-weary look on my face, as if I had just escaped the trenches, sigh heavily, and nod as I whispered, “Oh. It was awful.” Cue more sympathy. Pass the chocolate truffles.

Of all the jobs I’ve left behind, the bookstore is the only one I sometimes miss, and I think on this day I miss it most.

Have a very, very Merry Christmas, everyone.


8 Responses to “Repost: Bookstore, Christmas Eve”

  1. Thanks, I am getting ready for work now, I work at the visitor service desk at the museum here in Dallas. And helping people find there way around and have a good time is my job. Most of the people who visit today will be out of towners that have been sent over by the hotels. We will be down to a skeleton crew and there wont be many people, it will be fun.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Merry Christmas!

  3. B.P. Bland Says:

    in 1994 I worked in a toy store for Christmas Eve. A toy store! On a normal day you may have had to go to the register once every twenty minutes to go check someone out. On Christmas Eve, I started at the register and stayed there for eight hours. The line never ended. It was actually pretty fun. We didn’t really have a big, hot toy that year like a Furby or Tickle Me Elmo so there was no fighting in the aisles. It was actually a fun challenge with every customer to try and figure out how to get all their purchases into our bags. I count it as one of my fondest memories.

  4. Juls Says:

    Omg, that’s absolutely brilliant! Now I’m actually a bit disappointed I got today off of work!

    Merry Christmas Carrie, to you and your family!

  5. Les Says:

    Merry Christmas!!!!

  6. musicalmom Says:

    It’s been a while, but I worked a couple Christmas Eve’s in retail and it was a similar experience. The later in the day, the more relaxed it got, which seems backwards, but that’s the way it was. Hope you’re having a wonderful Christmas!

  7. Thomas Stacey Says:

    Hope you had a great Christmas Carrie! I remember the original post of this and it still sounds like a lot of fun. I think a book store would be the only retail I would still work in if I wanted something to do over summer break. I have summers off in my current IT position with Denver Public Schools which is awesome and sometimes want to pick up extra work while I am off.

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