How I Learned to Deal With an Overly-Zealous Store Clerk
Elmore's shoppers in August 1981
Her name was Mrs. Wiginton
that's all I ever knew her as. Honestly, I did not want to know her any better. This is not a knock against this wonderful store clerk, it was just that I had no desire to be any closer to her than I had to be.
The month and year was Sept., 1975. I began my 23-year career with our local newspaper, the Journal Record in this timeframe. I loved my new job as it was the first office job I had ever had in my young working years. I was hired to sell display advertising to the local merchants in Hamilton, Ala., where I lived. I still live there today.
My publisher gave me a list of merchants to visit and let them get to know me. I was thrilled. Me. Working as an executive of sorts, and not answering to an annoying time clock as I had grown accustomed to doing in my previous jobs.
This Elmore's was once located in Fayette, Ala., a town only forty-five minutes from my home
Elmore's and Romper Room: Always a winning team
I sincerely apologize
to my followers . . .
for not having photos of Mr. Verlon Davis, the store manager of Elmore's, where this story originated or the Mrs. Wiginton, the overly-zealous store clerk.
This story has its roots in Sept. 1975 and frankly, I never had the power to see the future, for if I had been blessed with this power and knew that (a) HubPages would be around, I would have definitely taken a photo of the two.
But that presents another problem. Digital photography with jpeg was not invented until the 1990's. I would have had to scan the photos on a flatbed scanner and well, they wouldn't have worked.
Vintage Elmore's store front
to the Fullest
Hello, Mr. Verlon Davis
On this list of potential-advertisers was Elmore's Department Store, which in 1975, preceded Walmart in opening in Hamilton. Elmore's was, in its time, the consummate department store. It even had the smell of a major department store--the various aroma's of new products, fabrics, perfumes, and that mouth-watering, none-like-it-anywhere popcorn that was always popping in that vintage stand-up popcorn machine located in the entrance of the store.
I loved it. I always thought it was part of Elmore's marketing strategy to place the popcorn machine in the front of the store and to always keep the popcorn popping so customers could buy the ten-cent-a-bag popcorn and stay in the store for a longer period of time.
I met the store manager, a Mr. Verlon Davis, who bore a strong resemblance to "Barney Fife," Andy Griffith's co-star, Don Knotts on the old "Andy Griffith Show," and I tell you the truth. He fit the description from head to toe--thin, sharply-dressed, and very afraid of the district manager for Elmore's, a Mr. Bill Lerner.
This dialogue was predicted by my publisher, a Mr. Roger Quinn. He told me when I called on Elmore's to pay close-attention if Lerner was there.
Mr. Lerner: "Davis! Hey, Davis!" (he said in a stern, aggravated tone).
Mr. Davis: "Yes, sir! Yes, sir! What do you need?" (fearing for his life).
Mr. Lerner: "I need these display cases filled . . .NOW! See that it's done, Davis!"
Mr. Davis: "Yes, sir! Yes, sir! Mrs. Wilson, get to the intercom and call a staff meeting."
I had to admit that my boss was absolutely-right in all area's of his prediction. Mr. Davis was practically running when Mr. Lerner was barking out orders.
Case in point. Mr. Vernon Davis was the store manager and he was the one I was to deal with when his store wanted to run those big full-page ads. But running ads and understanding Mr. Davis is two different things entirely.
I never understood what he wanted or needed in our brief conversations when I did my job in calling on him every week as I was paid to do. I will not go into detail of our conversations because this story is not about Mr. Davis, who I did learn to like while he was employed at Elmore's.
The last I heard of him, he was transferred to a smaller Elmore's store in a town about an hour north of my hometown. I assumed that his transfer was really a demotion or punishment for not having a personality. Truth is, he didn't have a personality. He was dry as a bone every time I talked to him.
I was sad for a few days at learning he was no longer in Hamilton.
Actual prices at Elmore's circa 1968
Elmore's senior citizen employee handbook
Mrs. Wiginton and how I dealt with her
Do not misunderstand. Store managers all across America should have an entire staff who are just like Mrs. Wiginton. She was the epitome of loyalty, obedience, humbleness and had a work ethic that was more than good. It was too good. And I used to think that there was no such thing as a work ethic being too good, but being around Mrs. Wiginton taught me differently.
Allow me to define the term, "too good," in describing Mrs. Wiginton's work ethic. No matter when I, or anyone else would visit Elmore's, she was there. She never took a day off or took a vacation to my knowledge. She was like a hungry hawk seeking prey for lunch. Wherever I was in the store, she was in the next aisle peering at me with her suspicion-filled eyes.
I knew what she was doing and I resented it. She was making sure that I, or no one else was shop-lifting. I admired that for a while, then it started to grow old. And fast. I carried my wife into this store, but never told her about Mrs. Wiginton's Gestapo tactics in flushing-out would-be thieves so I could see how my wife would react to her.
No sooner than my wife had walked to the fabrics, Mrs. Wiginton was there, perched between the housewares and dry goods. It was so obvious what she was doing that anyone who might have been tempted to steal from the store would have sense enough to bring an accomplice to distract her.
On the way home, my wife who is normally a pacifist, sees the good even in Charles Manson, filled my ear with several complaints on how she did not appreciate being watched in a public store. She carried on for almost an hour.
So I knew something had to be done. My wife's honor had to be restored. I didn't care for my honor, but do not look as if my wife is stealing your cheaply-manufactured merchandise.
I had to play this one cool
as Paul Rudd or Brad Pitt, two of the coolest guys of this millennium I couldn't afford to get into trouble with Mr. Davis, for he was one of the newspaper's biggest advertisers (at that time), so being careful was my game plan as I started out with mission in-hand to show this Mrs. Wiginton that it is not good business to "track" each customer as if there were a bounty on them.
- One day while I wasn't so busy, I went to Elmore's knowing that Mrs. Wiginton would be on-duty for I told you she never took a vacation or day off. I entered the store and there she was at the cashier's section at the front of the store. The look on her face spelled worry. I was the root of her uneasy demeanor, I guess for it meant more snooping for her to do. So I casually went from one department to the next . . .holding up jackets to see if they fit and all the while noticing Mrs. Wiginton was in the next aisle in men's underwear, not literally, but pricing them supposedly, and afer I had toured the entire store with her on my tail, I finally caught her by saying, "I really like this cap. Don't you?" She glared at me as I casually left. Sorry, Mrs. Wiginton. No bounty for you today.
- In a day or two I revisited Elmore's and acted like I was deep in thought. I noticed Mrs. Wiginton in the hardware section possibly delegating more shoplifting scanning to other employees when she spied me walk by and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her walking so swift to catch me that I turned around and said, "Ma'am. Is there a problem?" Embarrassed, she crept away, but came back to watch me as I checked prices in the jewelry department for a gift I was going to buy my wife, but I didn't. I then took a piece of their cheap jewelry and motioned her to come over to where I was shopping. I asked her if Elmore's bought their jewelry overseas or within the United States. All I got was a, "I don't know!" and hurriedly walked away. I wondered then if maybe she was not an employee, but a senior citizen undercover detective.
- The next week I carried my prank-loving brother-in-law with me. We both went to the men's clothing department and were shopping the shirts and pants when Mrs. Wiginton's head popped-up over the concession counter. This older woman was everywhere. Was she a clone? She thought she was sly in trying to sneak up on us looking at the pants and jeans when my brother-in-law turned and asked her, "Hey, you work here, so did you hear about the store clerk in Illinois who was sued along with her store for running off customers for watching them too closely for shoplifting?" Her face turned red and she mumbled something as she went right back into her "You Best Be Careful Mode."
- One time I paid a brief visit to Elmore's and pretended that I needed to know the time by asking her what her watch said. But all the time she was checking, my eyes darted back and forth as if I was looking at someone behind her. She got so distracted that I never got the time. As I walked off leaving her gazing into where I was looking, she made for the housewares like a smart bomb. I never seen anything like it.
- One time I asked her if I found another item at a lower price, would Elmore's charge the same price. She mumbled some jibberish about talking to the home office and I asked, "Is the management of this store not allowed to make such decisions?" Again the jibberish so I just said thanks and left.
- The last time I visited Mrs. Wiginton I had this serious look on my face. I walked up to her, a nice change, and asked if Mr. Davis was in. She looked scared and replied, "Yes, why?" "A personal matter," I replied and she kept picking me trying to get me to tell her my business. I was actually bringing him some ad rates and while Davis and I talked, I would look in her direction.
And did you know that immediately after this last attempt to get her to stop riding the backs of customers, I went back to meet the store's new manager, a Mr. Roy Hutton. And Mrs. Wiginton was there, but did not make an effort to follow me around in the store as Hutton had told me to do to get items for his weekly-display ad.
Ahhh, the sweet taste of casually-shopping unhindered.