Working the Retail Holiday Season during COVID

The independent bookstore in my town is the hub of the area; tourists and locals alike make a point to come in day in and day out, week after week. This has continued even after COVID-19; while the store was closed to customers for a month during the beginning stages of the pandemic, they were still open to web orders and curbside pickup. By the time the holidays rolled around, the regular customers had returned and the seasonal visitors had arrived in my town. I have the privilege of working at the bookstore, and have worked there for the past two and a half years. The holiday season is always crazy for us, so I was curious to see how things would be affected with COVID-19. 

For the most part, things were kind of normal. People rushing around buying things, whirling dervishes of children, and irate customers who wanted their severely backordered books yesterday. Of course, we were all in masks, and after December 11th, we stopped offering our complimentary gift wrapping because it would have caused traffic jams and made social distancing very difficult. Even without the flurry of wrapping gifts, we still were desperately trying to shelve arrivals while constantly being interrupted by customers and picking up the phone every five seconds to answer a question that is clearly stated on our website, all while the same dozen or so Christmas songs played on a loop in the background.

person holding an open book in front of their face Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Working the days leading up to Christmas brought both a sense of normalcy for the reasons I said above, but also a sense of melancholy. I don’t think there was one person who wasn’t thinking of the family members or people they knew who wouldn’t be able to see their families, either for this holiday season, or ever again. It almost felt like everyone, customers included, were dedicated to making Christmas seem like “normal” even though we were all feeling the exhaustion and sadness from the past year. Asking about holiday plans was not the cheery conversation it once was, as nearly everyone prefaced their answer with, “Well, because of Covid…” and our responses were attempts at being reassuring more than anything else: “I’m sure you’ll have a great time,” “That sounds really nice,” “That’s great that your family is so close.” We were all desperate for something positive to hold onto, and, while perhaps cliché or juvenile, the Christmas spirit was that thing. Sure, there will always be the person who is grumpy or rude no matter how much you do for them, but I saw the fatigue in people’s faces, and I saw how even just the simple process of picking out Christmas cards or stocking stuffers lit them up inside, even just for a moment. While I do not wish to repeat the events of this year, being able to make someone’s day with a kind gesture, a short exchange of words, or showing them the exact thing they wanted was incredibly valuable. I have learned countless things about humans through this job, but this past holiday season especially I learned how people look and act when they have even a drop of hope. 


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