What It's Like to Work in the Last Big Store in a Dying Mall

Washington Post writer follows one worker at store's jewelry counter in Hermitage, Pa.
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2018 12:04 PM CST
Updated Jan 6, 2018 7:30 AM CST
   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – To say the Shenango Valley Mall has seen better days would be an understatement. The Hermitage, Pa., mall used to offer the town's 16,000 residents a Sears, Macy's, and JC Penney. But in March, the first two closed, and smaller stores—Rue 21, GNC, a pizza place—followed. At the Washington Post, Jessica Contrera gives context to the impact: The department stores' exit meant the loss of almost 200 retail jobs, which represented about 20% of those Hermitage had to offer. Amid fears that JC Penney may not be able to hold on, Contrera views the situation through the lens of Barbara Cake, a 67-year-old who took a seasonal job working at the store's jewelry counter.

Contrera describes Cake as the prototypical department store worker: Quick to dole out "sir" and "ma'am" and dressed smartly in pantsuits, with jewelry that coordinated with the day's chosen outfit. She was paid $8.50 an hour, tasked with hitting $1,500 in sales daily, and tried to provide what the Internet couldn't: "Could the Internet assure the customer that he was making the right choice? Could it praise him for being a thoughtful husband? Could it make sure that he was getting the best possible deal?" As for the last question, Contrera shares a touching anecdote of Cake helping a 7-year-old find gold earrings he could afford for his mother: $124, down to $31.79. But three days before Christmas, worrisome news arrived about a steep reduction in the mall owner's taxes that could precipitate the mall's demise. Read the full story here. (Read more mall stories.)

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