Service with a Smile A retail worker learns to fight for her rights.

AuthorJaffe, Sarah

Ann Marie Reinhart didn't intend to spend half her life working in retail. It just sort of happened that way.

"I have always worked. I have worked two and three jobs," she explains in a series of interviews. She had left her position in medical billing right before her first child was born, and hadn't quite figured out what was next. A few months after her son's birth, she stopped by a Toys "R" Us store and saw a "Now Hiring" sign. They hired her on the spot for the holidays. That was 1988.

"I had no aspirations of being a permanent cashier or working in retail. It was definitely not on my bucket list," Reinhart says with a laugh. "The make-up of a part-timer today is either you are a mom, you are a student, or you are working a second job." But she liked the idea of getting back to work, in part because she didn't want to buy her husband a Christmas present using money from his job.

Reinhart is from Long Island, and you can hear it in her voice even though she's been in North Carolina for years now; she is warm and motherly but with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes when she's telling a funny story. She'd assumed her stint at Toys "R" Us would be over after the holidays, but instead the store started training her in customer service and how to keep track of the money. The pay wasn't great, and retail could be stressful, but the company always gave her some flexibility in her schedule to be with her family. When both of her children were in school, she took the full-time position her managers offered her, moving into a supervisor's role. It came along with a new benefit: health insurance, which made it worth her while to stay.

"Back then, Toys 'R' Us was very good to all of us," Reinhart says. "It let me be the mom that I wanted to be."

That's not to say it was a perfect job, and Reinhart had thought seriously about leaving. The company allowed her time off for some of her kids' activities, but she still worked long hours. "I think that nobody realizes all the sacrifices that are made by the people that work in retail. They sacrifice their families," she says. "Almost the entire month of December, I didn't see my husband. He got up early for work. I would come home and he would be sleeping. Then, he would leave for work and I would be sleeping."

Then, of course, there were the customers, some of whom could be unbelievably nasty. "I have been called every name in the book," says Reinhart, who brushes her brown bob off her forehead to show me the scar from a Green Power Ranger toy that a customer had thrown in her face. She recalled touching her forehead and feeling blood.

Another horror story involved Reinhart's daughter-in-law, who also worked in customer service at the store. "[One] lady was so mad at her, she took her daughter's wet panties off and threw them at my daughter-in-law," Reinhart says. Her eyes welled up as she recalled her daughter-in-law's scream.

Though she might have prided herself on her ability to manage difficult people, these memories clearly still stung. "Some days you go home feeling depleted," she says.

And the worst part was that...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT