First Day as a Junior Shop Assistant

I never had to contradict a customer, because the customer was always right.

The year was 1925 in the month of June and I was 16 years old.  I started at 8.15am and we juniors had to be downstairs in our department at 8.30am prompt.  I was in the gloves, laces, collars department and we also sold silk material.  The other junior had to show me my duties and I did admire her because she had long plaits of hair twisted around her ears like head-phones.

We started by brushing down counters and picking up small pins.  These were called lil pins and were used to secure the cards of lace, we also had to polish the counters and wood shelves with a red polish and my word we had to use “elbow grease.”  I had to help Daisy [the other junior] to remove a cover off a handkerchief stand at one end of the counter, time was getting on as the other assistants were coming into departments as well as ours.  My buyer came to speak to me and from that first day I admired her.  I think my family would be tired of hearing her name as I believed every word she said was true, and if she had told me black was white I would have gone through life thinking she was right.

Our shop opened at 9.00am prompt but it was a full week before I had to attempt to serve a customer.  We never stood idle, we straightened gloves in boxes, tidied cards of lace and I loved to smooth the boxes of modesty vests and collars.  At 9.45am we juniors used to go to a little shop to get bars of chocolate or biscuits for the other girls and we had a 15 minute break for a cup of tea; we juniors were the last to go.  The morning seemed to pass quickly but I was learning all the time, and then the shop was closed at 1.00pm until 2.15pm

I only lived about ten minutes from our shop and my mother was waiting patiently to hear how I had coped.  The afternoon seemed longer than the morning.  I was taken to the ribbon department next to ours and the ‘first sale’ instructed me how to handle the rolls of ribbon and also how to sort ribbon velvet into their proper widths.

At last we had a tea break at 4.00pm but my buyer wanted a toasted teacake, so I went up to the bakers and asked in my most polite voice “Miss Smith [my buyer] would like a teasted toecake”, my face turned scarlet.  All through the years we often had a good laugh about my mistake.  Then at last it was my turn to get my cup of tea.  Time was getting on and we closed our shop at 6pm so Daisy and I started at ten minutes to six to put covers on the handkerchief stand and to straighten all the sales books.  Everywhere was closed in, we had glass doors on the rolls of silks, and these were all covered up ready for the cleaners.  I was very tired and my legs ached, as I wasn’t used to standing; we didn’t sit down except at our tea break.  We were lucky to get out prompt because we had no customers in the shop at closing time.

When I got home my father was eagerly waiting to hear how I liked it and I told him that I had learnt a lot in one day, but the main thing was “I never had to contradict a customer, because the customer was always right.”

I started at the sum of five shillings per week and after being at work for one month my boss called me to the office and told me I was to receive a raise because I was pleasant to the customers and I received six shilling and sixpence per week.

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