This hilarious book is a must read for anyone who has ever worked in retail as well as anyone who just loves to shop. Freeman Hall calls on past experiences from twenty-plus years of working as a “retail slave” and tells his story as a handbag salesperson at a high end department store in the Los Angeles area in California. Throughout the book the store is referred to as “The Big Fancy” but Hall explains in the “Author’s Note” many of the details have been changed and that the stories and people depicted within come from different stores and points in time. As the back cover states, “The stories are all true -- only the names have been changed to protect the damned.”
Hall writes the book in the first person and from start to finish takes the reader on a journey into the crazy world of retail, it reads more like a novel than autobiographer. The book is broken up into three Acts with a special bonus section as a “Free Gift with Purchase.” Rather than using numbered chapters the book is, instead further divided into several titled essays relating to the general themes of the three Acts. The use of the term “Act” as a divisional tactic, instead of the typical “Part,” seems deliberate, and throughout the three Acts of the book, you begin to feel like you’re watching three Acts of a play. Along the way Hall introduces us to a zany cast of characters. We meet Suzy Satan (the store manager), Judy “The General” (manager of the handbag department), a group of crazy co-workers divided into the Demon Squad and the Handbag Angels, and finally the revolving door cast of customers that Hall had to battle on a daily basis. Hall breaks the customers down into general categories or nick names for specific customers, and devotes one or two essays to each. Examples include, Shoposaurus Carnotaurus, Nasty-Ass Thieves, Little Piggies, Picky Bitches, and Devil Spawns.
Throughout the book Hall evolves from a regular guy who can’t remember to use the term “handbag” instead of “purse” (heaven forbid) and can’t tell a clutch from a tote or a Ferragamo from a Gucci, to a handbag connoisseur and model employee. His stories are all told in vivid detail and (sometimes explicit) language, to a point where you can really visualize the people and events he is describing. To anyone who’s never worked retail, many of the stories might seem over-the-top or unbelievable, but for those of us who have ever been retail slaves ourselves some of these stores hit close to home. From dealing with corporate drones who try to push a team player objective to crazy customers trying to get away with the retail equivalent of murder, many of these essays are so relatable they might just cause post-traumatic retail stress in the reader, so be warned.
The sequel to this fabulous book will be released later this year. For more information on Freeman, the books, or other stories of retail hellaciousness, check out Freeman's blog, Retail Hell Underground here.
A version of this post originally appeared on http://researchandramblings.blogspot.com/