Stepping back into my store after so long gave me unsettling anxiety. After months of being furloughed and staying at home, how will I be able to adapt to these new societal conditions as a retail worker? Will I catch the coronavirus by being around customers? Will my job care about me as a person and not as a replaceable employee? Will my state’s government overturn the decision to reopen the malls? These questions and more repeat in my head day after day.

Every day I was angry, scared, and didn’t know what to do with myself. Of course, I could have just quit and avoided the situation altogether but I am not in the position of luxury to do that. Even though I still live with my mom, I do my part and help pay for bills. I also need money to save up on future expenses and when I have to go back to repaying my student loans. Either way, I needed to face my fears head-on in order to support my family.

As the days went by I saw how empty the mall was. In a way, it was a sigh of relief. I did not face too many people. But it left me with this constant feeling of “So what was the point? There aren’t enough people coming to the mall to justify us being open. Why am I here?” Why do retail workers have to be exposed to a life-threatening virus all because someone is feeling a little bit antsy and really needed to go outside? 

I thought the pandemic would have killed the need to go to malls anymore. Especially with the increase of online shopping, I thought the plan to reopen my mall seemed almost pointless. Why go outside when I can order anything I want with a couple clicks of a mouse? But knowing that’s our new reality, looking at the dark, empty rooms alongside open ones is disheartening. Malls are looking like a ghost town, only a shell of what they used to be. Guess that will be another thing millennials killed, huh?

Days turn into weeks and my insecurities have subsided but it just turned into an annoyance. Many of the customers that come into the store completely ignore the mandated mask rule. My job has a policy for customers and employees to obey and the state made it a law. What baffles me is how disrespectful people are, especially toward retail employees. I have had people take off their masks while looking at shoes thinking because they are away from others, it is okay. Customers taking off their masks because once they’re out of my line of sight, they’re exempt from the rule. People taking off their masks to make a phone call (honestly, can someone give me a rationale on that one. I don’t understand). Some people really do walk around this world acting this terrible with no remorse for others. 

Do you really think buying a pair of shoes is more important than caring about my own wellbeing? I will happily watch an angry customer leave my store because they are a public health risk right than making a sale. Keep rolling your eyes at me, I will only embarrass you and make it known you don’t care about anyone. Try me. Am I over policing? Probably, I can admit that. I feel no shame in creating boundaries in order to protect myself and my coworkers. 

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To make matters worse, my store location is going out of business. With new and old customers coming into the store in droves because of our liquidation sale, my problems only worsened. Huge crowds coming into the store was a new experience for us, so we got quickly overwhelmed. My coworkers and I had to become bodyguards to adhere to the person limit of our small store. 

If there’s anything this pandemic has taught me, it’s to stand up for myself by any means necessary. I don’t care if you think I’m overly paranoid or being irrational. Customers calling me names under their breath to help justify their feelings of me telling them to put on their masks correctly. I would rather be cautious than risking my loved ones’ lives because of my selfishness. I cannot live with that guilt and I feel bad for those who know people like that. They don’t care about you or themselves. If you care about anything deeply, there is no reason for anyone to shame you about it.

But in all seriousness, being in retail during a pandemic is emotionally exhausting. I have gotten home in near tears. I have been pissed off because of people’s incompetence. I have gotten home afraid to be near my mom because a customer told me she just got over COVID-19 while not wearing her mask correctly. I have had a whirlwind of emotions that I just don’t know what to do with myself. I’m lucky enough to have a great support system when I ultimately do breakdown. Without them, I’m not sure I would have been able to go as long as I have.

I want to make this clear that I am by no means comparing retail workers to essential workers. We are in no way on the same level as healthcare workers, grocery workers, and delivery drivers. They are risking their lives each and every day to make sure our country runs afloat. I would know, my mom is a courier delivering packages to hundreds of doorsteps. The fear and anxiety hit home.

What I hope to address here is that retail workers are people just like you. We’re not heroes but we do deserve respect, understanding, and to not be taken advantage of. All I’m asking is for everyone to open their hearts and mind for those who do the best they can. Oh and put on your masks. The right way. We are nowhere near done with this fight.

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  • Theresa Personna

    Theresa has a deep love for sustainability, animation, and women empowerment. When Theresa isn't writing, she's always ready to rant about Avatar: The Last Airbender or Donald Glover to anyone willing to listen.