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The Customer Is Always Wrong



At least one good thing has come out of the economic recession. Well, if you're Tulsa author Jeff Martin, that is, and you've just edited the new anthology "The Customer Is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles," which collects 21 essays of store-set suffering.

"A year ago when we were putting this book together, we had no idea there was going to be a financial crisis, that retail was going to be on the news every day," Martin said. "I think my book is one of the few things that's benefiting from that, unfortunately "¦ or fortunately. People want to talk about that."

Among the book's essays, Kevin Smokler reminisces about being a video store clerk, Victor Gischler recalls hawking hearing aids and Wendy Spero details her days selling kitchen knifes on commission. In many, it's the dealings with the public that made their gigs gloomy. Soul sucking, then; hilarious, now.

"Not every piece is (about being) miserable," Martin said. "Some are more nostalgic, even poignant "¦ but obviously, there's nothing funny about being content."

The book began as an idea for a NPR radio piece that never quite materialized, but Martin said it wouldn't exist if not for a generational shift in the perception of retail as a trade. Fifty years ago, owning and running a store in a community was a respected profession. Then one-stop behemoths like Target and Wal-Mart put them out of business and changed all that.

"Now, (retail is) kind of seen as, 'Well, what are you doing after that?' It's transitional. Nobody wants to do that all the time," he said. "But I want people to realize that there are good parts to it and what a huge part of our economy it is."

With that shift, the one-on-one relationship between merchant and customer has devolved into an anonymous one, which allows the latter variable to act like, well, a jerk, thus providing fodder for the anthology's contributors.

And that's too bad, Martin said, because "I think people still crave that relationship. Once they find a place that they like, they'll frequent that place. They want to be Norm on 'Cheers.' They want to be recognized when they walk through the doors. They want to have that sense of community.

"And that's fairly reciprocal. People want to work where they have customers that they like and know," he said, "but those aren't the kind of customers that make for funny stories."

"?Rod Lott

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