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The Tales of a Grocery Store Cashier

During the pandemic, grocery store cashiers were put on the front line. I started my job as a cashier in July of 2020 – the midst of the pandemic. During my time there, I experienced my fair share of crazy stories. I can’t promise you’ll gain anything from reading this, but at the very least, I’ll have an article link to share instead of sharing the stories over and over again.

One of the most common stories I share is the creepy old men I encountered. I could fill a football field with the number of stories. A common story I share is the time I was working close and the night shift of local firefighters came over. The lieutenant went through my line and when I ask “Would you like paper or plastic?” the response I received was “What was that baby girl?” Now some people would think it’s the difference between generational language. However, that generational language includes honey, sweetheart, doll and names similar to those. Creepy comments like this always caught me off guard, but they became less shocking and more entertaining.

In the state of Illinois, a cashier must be 18 to scan liquor. I was only 17 for most of my time at the store. Once, two older trucker men were buying two cans of beer and some other little things. The whole time I was ringing up their groceries, they were flirting up a storm with me by calling me hot and too pretty to be working at a place like a store. I got to the beers and called my manager up to scan them and as I did this the truckers asked “Oh, not 21?” to which I responded “Not 18!” The look on their faces was priceless. They, without hesitation, stopped the flirting and looked almost alarmed. I would have rather never experienced these moments; however, the reactions I would get when they were thrown off their game were hilarious.

As a cashier, you would become familiar with the “regulars” at the store, and one of the regulars was a man who always seemed off to me. One day he came through my line and only bought two 1.75 liter bottles of Skol vodka – that was all. I got his change, printed his receipt and as I turned to hand everything to him he looks insanely angry. He grabbed his stuff and aggressively asked me where the rest of his groceries were. I, of course, responded and told him that was all he bought. He jolted toward me to threaten me and said I was trying to rob him and then as he grabbed the bottles he screamed at me, “You’re a fucking bitch!” It turns out the thing that was “off” about him was he was a belligerent alcoholic.

Over the past few years, the term “Karen” became extremely popular to describe an unruly customer. I had numerous encounters with a Karen; however, I’ll just share the few big ones. Obviously, there was a time where masks were required in grocery stores. Where I am from is a very small right-leaning town, so naturally, we had our fair share of people not wearing their masks.

A customer wasn’t wearing a mask and when I politely informed her masks are mandatory, she claimed she had a medical exception. I told her we would need a medical card, but she could purchase a mask for $2 or put her shirt over her mouth and nose. She became angry and said she was from out of town, and since she had made it through the whole store, she’s fine to not have one. At that point, there’s not much I can do about it so I hurry up and bag her groceries so she’s out of the store faster. She of course left her basket at the end of the register in a spot I couldn’t reach. I turn to walk around my register and she gets bossy and says “Don’t get sassy with me because I don’t want to wear a mask.” She not only admitted she didn’t have a medical reason, but also tried to get my managers involved and cause a disruption to the whole store.

As I just touched on, we had a plethora of mask issues. Some of my most outrageous stories originate from the mask mandate. Not only would customers refuse to wear one, they would also try to insist that I needed to take mine off. I don’t have many specific stories from this topic, just more of very common occurrences. For instance, while I was making my rounds around the store to clean handles, I would see people without masks. For the first few months, I was dealing with those customers I was very polite and timid. As time went on I was obviously still polite, but more demanding. I would state confidently “Sir/Ma’am we do require masks” and if they gave me an attitude or started to argue, I would be straight up with them. “If you don’t put on a mask I will get my boss to kick you out of the store.” Once a woman told me I wasn’t allowed to do that and it would be unfair to her as the customer because she had a cart full of food that needed to be cold. So, of course, I started to walk up to my manager and she immediately said “Okay, fine!” and pulled a mask out of her pocket.

For me, it was the customers’ reactions that make the story worth sharing. Because 9 times out of 10 they were looking for attention and an argument, so when I didn’t give them the satisfaction of an argument, it was even more funny to see them stumble to follow the rules.

At any business, there will be problems with theft attempts and things like that. Our store was no different. My absolute favorite story to share about theft goes as follows. I was working a mid-day shift when one of the “floor boys” (the employees who stocked the shelves) found a bottle of Smirnoff in one of our freezers. He promptly made a joke about that not going there thinking it was another classic case of lazy customers. One of the managers looked at it and said “wait, that’s half empty”. We were all shocked to say the least. We laughed it off and told our boss, thinking that was the end of the story. However, over the course of the next month, we kept finding half drank bottles of Smirnoff in various places in the store. No one could figure out who it was and how they were getting away with it. Sadly, I don’t know much more about this story except the person was eventually caught and banned from the store.

Alright, I’ve obviously listed an unreasonable amount of negative stories I remember from my time spent at that store. However, I have to admit there were a good amount of positives. I’ll never forget all the unbelievably sweet, kind, cool and hard-working regulars I got to know so well. That includes the TSA agent, the die-hard Green Bay Packers fan, mothers and fathers, and even the little kids that would come through the store. Even people who were in the toughest of situations still managed to stay so positive and bring a smile to my face. As much as my job was pretty insane, I can’t help but think how inspiring and motivating my time spent there was. I met so many unique kinds of people and got to be a part of these random stranger’s lives in such a different way. People brought me in on stories from their past or even what they were currently going through.

I am also 90% sure I met my future self at one point. To describe her briefly, she had a piece of her hair dyed purple, a pair of glittery bedazzled sunglasses, and was wearing a sweater with cats on it. She was so fun to talk to and if she wasn’t me from the future then I hope to be just like her.

I wouldn’t trade the world for stories and experiences I got from the store – good and bad. Everything gave me something whether it was advice, a different outlook on things, or even just a crazy story to share. I feel everyone should work in a customer service job at least once in their life because it truly teaches you more than you realize. Everyone has their own story to tell and I got to be a part of their story, even if it was just for a brief moment.

Josie Smith

Bradley U '25

First year student at Bradley U and I'm so excited to be a part of Her Campus!
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