The Shoe Crew

Most retail jobs are shitty, but none are quite as shitty as selling shoes.

The store where I worked was located on the one of the most highly-trafficked, upscale shopping blocks of New York. We sold very expensive, very outlandish men’s and women’s Italian shoes; to a clientele that consisted mostly of European tourists, rude Brighton Beach mafia wives, assorted floozies and rap stars. Since staff was expected to wear the store brand exclusively, this meant that the female contingent had to schlep tall stacks of shoe boxes up and down the steep flight of stairs from the basement stockroom while wearing painful high heels, the lowest of which were three to four inches. We were trained to never return from the stockroom with fewer than three boxes, since even if a customer had requested only one, we were to make at least two “suggestions.” When tall boots were involved, and you were serving more than one customer simultaneously, the height and width of the stacks one was forced to carry was quite spectacular (as were the crashes, when they toppled as one ascended the stairs).

Selling shoes to women is far more aggravating than selling to men, because a startling percentage of females are seriously crazy about their shoe size. Suppose Crazy Female Customer asks to see a shoe, size 8 ½ . She tries it on and then pronounces it too tight. “Ah, I’ll get you a 9…” the salesperson might cheerfully offer. The CFC dismisses this suggestion as vaguely insulting, replying, “No—I’m an 8 ½,” with grave finality. She then repeats this process with a dozen or more additional shoes, perhaps accidentally hitting upon a style that runs so large as to actually fit, in a half-size too small.

My most memorable encounter happened with a male customer, though. He was affluent-looking and approximately 60 years old. It’s necessary to the story to also mention that he was African American. I approached him and asked if he’d like to try on the style he’d been looking at. He gave me a withering look and asked to instead be served by one of my colleagues, whom he asked for by first name– apparently he was a regular customer. I told him that it was her day off, but I’d be happy to assist him. He looked at me with barely disguised contempt, but finally agreed to let me fetch his size. Joy. During the 10 minutes I dealt with him, everything I said was met with an exaggerated withering glance, sometimes even an eye roll and his mouth was contorted as though sucking on a lemon. “What the fuck’s that guy’s problem?” I wondered to myself, as I retrieved another three pair for him from the stockroom. It crossed my mind that the other salesperson who he’d specifically requested happened to be black, whereas I’m white. Since I’d only been friendly and courteous, I was beginning to think that maybe he simply didn’t like white people?

Upon my return from the stockroom, he deigned to speak to me, noting the old Stevie Wonder song playing on the sound system. He said, “I see you’re playing our music.” “Our” music, eh? I took this as confirmation that he was hung up on race. I’d had enough, so I responded dryly that I didn’t see how he had any more claim to the music of Stevie Wonder than me. He gave me another look of scorn, but ultimately bought a pair of shoes and left. The next day, I told my colleague that he’d come in and asked for her, and I referred to him by name since I’d seen his credit card. In retrospect, after she informed me that he was a bigwig at Motown Records, the music comment seemed a little more innocuous than I’d previously thought.

Yes, I’m an idiot.

Comments (23)

Frau BlucherNovember 22nd, 2010 at 7:28 pm

nothing like catering to the rich and obnoxious, and even worse are the women who have NOTHING TO DO but shop. As for Mr Motown…well, anyone can be racist, black or white. It’s possible he didn’t like white people, but it also sounds like he has this attitude of entitlement that comes with ‘status’. Probably a combination of both. A friend of mine worked for a newspaper publisher who had, as their client, a local african american community newspaper, whose editor hated EVERYONE, including other black people whom he saw as ‘uncle toms’….he also hated jews and was always ranting about how they owned hollywood etc etc…my friend, who is half jewish, was frequently tempted to punch his face in but he was a client, of course. And for all his ranting about jews and their money, he walked around wearing about 10 gold rings the size of bowling balls and gold chains and flaunted his wealth and money, since he was quite well off. Everyone hated this guy, black and white…if you’re a rich jerk, you’re a rich jerk no matter what colour you are.

Garter SnakeNovember 22nd, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I have never understood people’s sensitivity about their shoe sizes. Admittedly, I don’t understand the fuss over dress sizes, either, but shoe size worries are even more baffling. It’s a foot! Who cares what size a foot is? Nothing you can do will change your foot size, and nobody cares about your foot size, so how about buying some shoes that fit? People are so weird.

Also, I really liked this story.

ewtNovember 22nd, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Eh, maybe he was referring to Motown Records, but it’s not totally out of line to think he was being racist because of his actions. He seems like a cranky entitled ass.

BaileyNovember 22nd, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Sounds like he was being a rich entitled jerk, and the OP made some racist assumptions. I don’t know if his jerkiness had anything to do with race. There aren’t really any specific racial comments he made against the OP. There are a lot of assholes out there of all colors. And yes, a lot of them are racist. Don’t get me wrong, he sounded like a class-A PITA, but I took it as him feeling entitled to being waited on like a king by someone he thought he had at his beck and call. Unfortunately just a regular jerk.

Good to see the OP (hopefully) recognizing that.

Frau BlucherNovember 22nd, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I don’t get the concern about sizes either…who knows except the sales person? like women who insist they’re a size 8 or whatever or small instead of medium. Yeah, wearing something too small will look real flattering!!! The only person who has to know is you. it’s not like anyone is going to look inside your shoes!

gtruckNovember 23rd, 2010 at 7:00 am

I have worked in that area at a couple of different businesses. I have seen people who want to be served by their “own kind” or the same sex as they are. It happens a lot. Some of them are slick and will just ignore you… Others will be blatantly rude about it. You just cannot win when it comes to people. So, ignore them and make your money. ;-)

TedNovember 23rd, 2010 at 8:02 am

I would shoot myself in the head before I would allow myself to become a women’s shoe salesman. Maybe jizz mopper would be a worse job… maybe…

JeffNovember 23rd, 2010 at 9:02 am

This was a good story! It just goes to show, even when the customer is being a jerk, you have to keep your mouth shut and not call them on it. Hopefully there were no adverse consequences for your understandable moment of frustration.

On the flip side, just as customers of upscale stores tend to be more rude on average, so do the employees. I once had a 20-minute argument with a sales guy in a very upscale men’s store about a cashmere sweater because I told him I thought it was much too overpriced. He proceeded to tell me in a snotty tone all about how I was wrong because the material was so rare and came from some special rare variety of animal and was sewn exclusively by virgins blah blah blah. Did he think aggravating me was going to earn him a sale? If I don’t want to buy something, it doesn’t matter if my reasoning makes sense, just shut up and show me something else!

BeccaNovember 23rd, 2010 at 9:31 am

I rather work at a snotty store than a low end store. I imagine everyone at the snotty store has nicely pedicured feet, but I can’t imagine what kind of unkept feet would come out of some people’s shoes.

Roger FruvousNovember 23rd, 2010 at 10:35 am


Why would you argue with a sales person that their price is too high?

What? Do you think he’s going to drop it just for you?

tronnerNovember 23rd, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Great story! I loved the writing.

Ruby RedNovember 23rd, 2010 at 1:58 pm

In my experience selling shoes isn’t that bad at all! I used to work in a women-only shoe store. It wasn’t super upscale, but nice enough. I hear you on the size thing, though! The worst for me were the people who would come in and try to get discounts for no reason. We also didn’t have to wear heels ALL the time and there were no stairs in the back, just ladders we had to go up and down.

HectorNovember 23rd, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I agree with Jeff (not that this particular salesperson was necessarily as rude). I once went shoe shopping with a friend and the snotty guy behind the counter acted like he didn’t want to waste his time on me because I wanted a beige pair of boots that were on sale for $50 instead of the exact same pair in black that were $100. He acted like I was being cheap by choosing the sale-priced ones (I really just preferred the colour) and he was being so pushy and rude that my friend finally turned to him and said, “Are you low on rent this month or something?” Genius.

TedNovember 23rd, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Hector and Jeff, people like you are the reason people in the service industry are rude. Just keep your mouth shut. No one wants to hear your reasons or opinions. Buy what you want, don’t buy what you don’t want… just keep quiet about it. The wage slaves are not YOUR slaves.

HectorNovember 24th, 2010 at 8:28 am

And also, asshole, notice how it was my FRIEND who snapped back at the salesperson (WHO WAS RUDE FIRST) and not me. So, no, Ted, YOU shut your mouth.

JeffNovember 24th, 2010 at 8:36 am

So let me get this straight – explaining to a sales person trying to sell me an item that I don’t want to buy it because it’s overpriced is being rude and starting an argument? What planet are you on? I was about to leave the damn store but the sales guy insisted on explaining to me at length why I was wrong and I was *too polite* to just walk out on him! So Ted, take your classist assumptions and shove them. I’ve worked in retail, I doubt you have.

TinaNovember 24th, 2010 at 10:45 am

“In retrospect, after she informed me that he was a bigwig at Motown Records, the music comment seemed a little more innocuous than I’d previously thought.
Yes, I’m an idiot.”

No, you’re not an idiot. If he was being an a-hole to you and didn’t mention that he worked at Motown, then it’s normal that you would make that assumption. It’s his problem, not yours.

Chellie2shoesNovember 24th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Ted, I have worked retail at ALL price points, and I don’t see how Jeff or Hector was being rude. I understand explaining to someone why an item is at a price point, but there is an art to doing it. I feel I need to explain why the dress they want with 40 yards of ruffles is so much more expensive than the mini dress so they know fabric is not cheap, if you don’t want to pay for it don’t buy design details. Of course, you have to know how to do this gracefully. What I hate? Assholes expecting me to give them a discount. Um, who are you? Do you spend a lot of money here? No? Full price baby. Don’t like it? Go to old navy.

hellcatNovember 26th, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I’m putting my two cents in for the people who don’t get the shoe size thing. No one at all cares what your shoe size is, and if they do, they are completely psychotic. Simple as that.

SexySmellNovember 28th, 2010 at 10:36 am

When the OP started talking about having to carry boxes I felt sorta bad but then I remembered that she works at a shoe store.

Oh god three boxes? Three giant shoe boxes? whats next having to stock the shelves like some kind of serf? perish the thought.

LisaNovember 28th, 2010 at 10:06 pm

SexySmell: You think it’s easy to carry three (12″ X 7″) shoe boxes and three (24″ X 14″) boot boxes… simultaneously… up and down a flight of stairs… while wearing heels?!

(I felt sorta bad that you’re unable to imagine the dimensions of a stack six shoe & boot boxes. But, then I remembered that you’re a person who decided to go by the name “SexySmell”–)

rawrNovember 29th, 2010 at 8:48 am

Pffft, cool kids don’t wear shoes.

Also, there’s never an excuse to be an asshole, aside from your own desire to be a douche to somebody.

SexySmellDecember 10th, 2010 at 2:40 pm

@ lisa – I think its probably easier than carrying 80 lbs buckets of meat over a wet floor in a room where everyone is holding very sharp knives.

But god youre right I imagine all that carboard and leather must get heavy after a while. The poor dear.

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