Column: A new found appreciation from opposite side of retail counter

By Kathleen Foody

“Hey! That shirt that says ‘sold out.’ Do you have a medium in that?”

Welcome to my life for the last few summers. If you’ve never had the experience of working in retail, you probably can’t understand the pain of answering questions like this day after day.

Lucky you. Though I have to admit that my own attitude toward the people on the other end of the counter improved dramatically once I started working for a company that sells souvenirs outside Chicago’s Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field during high school.

Don’t assume I used to be one of those annoying customers I have come to dread. Both of my parents worked in the service industry when they were younger and taught all their kids to respect waitresses, salespeople and those in similar jobs.

Even though I grew up being taught to always tip and say, “please” and “thank you” to everyone, I never realized how frustrating it could be on the other side of the counter or, in my case, souvenir stand.

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    You’d be surprised at how quickly just one polite customer could make me forget about the 50 others who had proven the “Top 20 Stupid Things People Say” list one of my co-workers came up with was shockingly accurate.

    For example:

    “Can I see that Cubs hat?”

    We carry more than 60 varieties. Could you be a little more specific? And that doesn’t mean adding “the blue one” or “the one with the ‘c’ on the front.”

    Does this come in any another color?

    Yes, the Cubs actually changed their team colors recently. Let me get you the new orange and red version of that T-shirt.

    Are these real signatures?

    For the low price of $15? Yes, yes, they are. The entire team sits around for hours at the beginning of the season signing fake baseballs.

    Can you take a picture for me, and make sure to get that red sign on the front of the stadium in there?

    I thought everyone wanted their picture taken on street corners in Chicago with no real hints at where they actually went.

    My mistake. I’ll be sure to get that red sign in there.

    This woman’s thong, do you have men’s sizes?

    No, sir, I do not. And I plan to find the beer vendor who provided you enough refreshment that you would even ask me that question later and have a chat with him or her.

    Honestly though, the job wouldn’t be as much fun without these questions.

    I really would laugh, but by day seven of a 10-game home stand, I’ve already heard every crack about carrying Sox merchandise and plenty of ridiculous questions in addition to the top four listed here.

    I’m not taking shots at Cubs fans either; I know Sox fans ask the same questions of friends who work across town.

    The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Even though I don’t get to watch the games, the atmosphere around a baseball stadium before and after games is infectious, I get to work with some of my best friends.

    And every now and then, a customer says thank you or simply knows exactly which shirt they want.

    Though I love being involved in journalism, I know the simple satisfaction of selling a little kid their first Cubs T-shirt will be tough to match.

    All the better if they pick one that doesn’t have a ‘sold out’ sign on it.