COLUMN: January 31, 2013

I HAVE never worked in retail, unless you count the week I spent on the tuck shop in school.

Actually, you should count that, as my tuck shop experience is what convinced me that retail was not for me. I do not want to go into detail, I will just say that I am unable to look at Drumstick lollipops without wincing.

So I have deep respect for all of those people who do work in retail, dealing all day with the public, because I know I am incapable of doing their job. I do make an exception for that woman in WH Smith, who, when I informed her I did not need a carrier bag, said: “Yeah, yeah, save a tree.” But then there is a dodgy till in every checkout.

I say deep respect, but of course I have my limits. And this weekend I discovered what those limits are. I had been left in sole charge of a child of my close acquaintance while out shopping, and had been given one of the most difficult choices anybody has been forced to make: Build A Bear Workshop or the Disney Store?

It was no choice at all, really, there was no way I was going to the workshop. I do not know if you are familiar with Build A Bear Workshop. It sells outfits for teddy bears. It is basically a ruthlessly efficient machine to extort cash from adults by using their own children as weapons against them.

I will say this once. Teddy bears don’t need clothes. They are covered in fur and are designed for cuddling. PVC, zips and souwesters are completely unnecessary.

And so I found myself going to the Disney Store, and being greeted by the second worst thing in retail. Literally. The greeter. Somebody actually employed to say hello and goodbye to customers as they enter and leave the store. I know that these are straitened times, and job creation should be encouraged, but this really is pushing it.

When I go into a shop, I just want to enter quickly, hand over as little money as possible, and leave. It is not a visit. I don’t want somebody to be paid to be nice to me, although I understand that cash would have to change hands.

And it is worse when she says goodbye to me, especially if I have not bought anything, as I then feel guilty for wasting her time. I imagine her putting on a brave face as she cheerily says goodbye while secretly being heartbroken.

I muttered hello as the child and I entered the store, and immediately was faced with a display of Disney Princesses. I had a flashback to Boxing Day, when I spent three quarters of an hour trying to release such dolls from their packaging, and I flinched so hard I expect you can see it on the store CCTV footage.

We walked further into the dispiriting jungle of purple and pink and glitter. I have no problem with Disney’s film output, which is usually saltier, wittier, and weightier than you might imagine. But the toys and merchandise based on those films are so sweet they make me want to brush my teeth.

I appreciate that 41-year-old men are not Disney’s core demographic, but even I can see that it’s pap. Luckily, the child I was with appeared to accept that thesis too and we were able to leave the store without making a purchase.

But near the exit was the greeter.

I don’t know what was going through my head. Maybe I didn’t want to feel guilty for not buying anything. Maybe I wanted to stick it to Disney’s corporate philosophy. Nevertheless it became very important to me that I escape the store without being bade farewell.

We waited near the greeter for somebody to enter, thinking that she would be distracted by having to say hello. So it proved. We darted forward… straight into the display of princesses. It collapsed like a camp game of Jenga.

I made an attempt to aid the greeter in her rebuilding of the display, but it became quickly apparent I was not helping. “Sorry, bye,” I said.

She didn’t reply. There wasn’t enough money in the world to make her, and I couldn’t blame her. So in one way, I succeeded, but in all the others, I failed badly.

It was still better than going to the Build A Bear Workshop.

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