“The Backroom”

To anyone who has never worked in retail, the backroom is a magical, wondrous place filled with all of the merchandise a person could possibly hope for, but for whatever reason, the employees won’t put on the shelves.  Worse, they deny that the coveted items customers seek are even back there.

The backroom’s power grows at Christmas.  With the influx of toys and goodies, the size of the backroom must grow to accommodate Santa’s workshop.  In this time of supreme demand, it’s even more maddening to not find desired items on the shelves.  That’s when employees get the most requests, pleas to look in the backroom for that one toy that some spoiled child demanded from Santa.  Because you MUST have this toy!  You MUST!  It must be back there!  Check with the elves!

But the backroom isn’t a special place.  Most of the time, it’s an employee’s nightmare, particularly at Christmas, when it’s crammed full of merchandise they don’t have room for on the shelves, items not in demand by the gift-crazed public, while the stuff they really need is often a no-show on the scheduled trucks.  Despite the effort to keep things neat and items easy to find during that time of the year, this eventually gets abandoned in favor of cramming in everything any way it will fit.  Bins overflow and pallets become over-stacked and jammed in the aisles, making it nearly impossible to get around.

The backroom can be a dangerous place.

And not always for the employees.

In most stores, the backroom is just a backroom.  When a customer asks if there’s a particular item in the backroom, most employees know if there is or isn’t.  Some don’t and go look.  Some do and go look anyway, just to get away from the customer, to brace themselves for the inevitable disappointment which can be anywhere from mild and polite to screeching demon-possessed to downright rude.  You see, what so many customers don’t understand is that no one wants the item in question to be on the shelf more than the employee because that means said customer is not talking to/unnecessarily angry at said employee and they can do their work in peace.

However, in some stores, the backroom is a little more than a backroom.

In these stores, usually smaller ones in smaller towns where the customers might not have names, but the employees know their faces because of their frequent visits, the backroom isn’t just a room for storage or a place to hide from irate customers.  It becomes a magical place, not for the customers, but for the employees.

Certain employees, you know the ones, the ones that smile no matter what and don’t ever seem to be rattled by any customer no matter how mad, look for those customers that demand the backroom supply them with whatever they desire.  They watch them, stalk them, wait for them.  Until one day the customer in question demands something of the employee-in-waiting.

“Do you have…” the customer asks.

“No,” the employee replies, smiling their fixed smile.

“Maybe it’s in the back.  Could you look?”

“I’m sorry, it’s not in the back.  We’re out of it.”

“How do you know if you don’t look?”

And then they say the phrase that they’ve been waiting to say for quite a while.

“Would you like to see for yourself?”

Most customers balk at this.  The idea of going into forbidden territory gives them pause and that hesitation ultimately saves them.

But a few, the ones that are the most self-important, the ones that feel owed, the ones that feel like the employees are nothing more than idiot, insolent servants, will take up that offer with their heads held high and march behind the employee to the back of the store and stride right behind them through the double doors.

In the backroom, they get to see for themselves what is what.  They get to see the stacks of boxes on pallets, shoved into bins, put onto metal shelves that extend up to the ceiling.  They get to see the attempt to control the chaos.  Some are impressed by it.  Some are unmoved; after all, this isn’t THEIR problem.  Either way, they’re invited into the bowels of the mess, to a far back corner which reveals a loading dock.

“This is our extra trailer,” the employee says, unlatching and pulling open the heavy, metal door.  “Why don’t you look inside and see for yourself that we don’t have it.  I want you to know that I’m not lying.”

And so, the customer will step forward and peer into the dimness of this special trailer.  And the employee will shove the customer inside and slam that heavy, metal door behind them, latching it and locking them in.

Panic typically happens after this.  Sometimes it lasts only a few minutes, but sometimes it can last hours.  Only when the customer becomes quiet and still, when they’ve finally given up trying to beat and scream their way out of the trailer, when it’s finally dawned on them that the employees have been waiting a long time for this, will they hear the noise behind them, a voice in the darkness.

“Did you find what you were looking for?”

Chances are that these poor souls didn’t find what they really wanted.  Instead, they found something else, something they never thought they needed and might not have required had they only stopped to view the employees as humans instead of scum, if they’d only stopped to realize that the backroom was just a room for holding some things, but not everything.

So, be careful when you feel your irritation start to rise because the item you desire isn’t on the shelf.  Watch yourself when you stalk up to an employee and demand to know if that item is in the backroom.

They might ask you to come take a look for yourself.

They might have been waiting a long time for this.


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