Monday, March 06, 2006

Irwin's Umbrella Stand

(55) Irwin’s Umbrella Stand

Irwin ran the discount department store out east. Busy place in its day. But that was before all of the world became indoor malls.

This was a stand-alone. Today, we’d call it a big box store. But there were no Wal-Marts or K marts or any other kind of marts. And malls were called shopping centers and didn’t have roofs or mall rats or senior citizens using them as power walk tracks.

So, here’s Irwin. Big, well dressed. Not dumb, but he left you with that impression. Nice, though. Worked his way up in the company from stock boy to Managing Director of this fairly prominent Medium Box Store.

He’s loaded with energy. Stalks and paces the aisles, works the register when it gets too crowded, which it often did around the holidays and in good weather.

Rain? No roof on the parking lot. No customers.

This does not keep Irwin down.

He’s Managing Director. He wears a SUIT. A good suit, at that. He knows what to do.

He gathers up Ted and Dominic and two captains of security, each named Bill and they go to the back of the place and push the umbrella display, a huge thing with a zillion umbrellas in it, up to the front door.

Brilliant, just brilliant.

Bound to attract customers like iron filings to a magnet.

Well, maybe not.

The store had many more employees than customers on days like that.

Moving the umbrella display did not change that.

But Irwin had nothing to managing direct. And captains Bill had no shoplifters to catch (except the employees, and they had to filter in and out through the back door.) And Ted who ran the menswear department almost never had anything to do, except maybe Saturdays. And Dominic who was in charge of all soft goods (we called clothing soft goods in those days, since there was no softWEAR) had nothing to do. So it gave them something to report to the Big Bosses At Union Square, and justified their paychecks.

Or maybe, for Irwin, it was once a stockboy, always a stockboy. And stockboys don’t worry about whether there are customers. They just do stockboy things. Like moving umbrella displays to attract iron filings.

The rest of us hid out, or hung out in the lunch room, where Dirty Sandy presided over the worst food on earth. Or we mixed cocktails using cheap Pepsis from the machine with miltowns or cough syrup with codeine, which in those days was over-the-counter.

But retail is the toughest division of show business and these guys had to do something to fill the seats. So they did what they knew how to do, which was shuffle the deck.

Today, we are all much more sophisticated. Today, we play musical chairs with people and assignments instead of store displays. Has the same effect.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.™

©wjr 2006

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