About the Book:
After losing her job as a journalist and the security of a good salary, Caitlin Kelly was hard up for cash. When she saw that The North Face-an upscale outdoor clothing company-was hiring at her local mall, she went for an interview almost on a whim.
Suddenly she found herself, middle-aged and mid-career, thrown headfirst into the bizarre alternate reality of the American mall: a world of low-wage workers selling overpriced goods to well-to-do customers. At first, Kelly found her part-time job fun and reaffirming, a way to maintain her sanity and sense of self-worth. But she describes how the unexpected physical pressures, the unreasonable dictates of a remote corporate bureaucracy, and the dead-end career path eventually took their toll. As she struggled through more than two years at the mall, despite surgeries, customer abuse, and corporate inanity, Kelly gained a deeper understanding of the plight of the retail worker.
In the tradition of Nickel and Dimed, Malled challenges our assumptions about the world of retail, documenting one woman's struggle to find meaningful work in a broken system.
I'm lucky, I guess. I've never worked in retail, though my husband has--he spent many years working in a small specialty shop of the type Caitlin Kelly admires, and while like most jobs it had it's good point and bad points, the fact of the matter is, he isn't there any more. Kelly's basic thesis is that retail salespeople in the average mall shop are overworked, underpaid, over-managed and abused by customers so that the company for which they work, can make profits--and if the company does make a profit during a recession, that has to be bad, right?
After being laid off from her prestigious (and I assume well-paid) journalism job in New York, Kelly took a part-time retail sales job to help her hone her sales skills (so that she could better sell her freelance work) and to cover difference in her budget between what her freelance work brought in and what she was spending. She worked one or two days a week at slightly more than minimum wage with no commission or benefits.
I found the beginning of the book to be interesting. I enjoyed watching Kelly train for this job and learn to do it. I've never given much thought to what goes on in the back room of a retail store and it was interesting to hear her tell us "the rest of the story". However, by the time I got halfway through the book I was getting tired of it. She had the same complaints over and over again--that the help was underpaid, the work environment uncomfortable and the customers could be rude. She didn't like the way the pay structure and other parts of the job basically showed that the company considered the sales associates to be replaceable employees, and counted on them not being there long-term. However, when she was asked about taking a job at a store catering to the well-to-do, a store that would have paid her a commission on her sales, she stated that she didn't want to wait on princesses--yet she was a princess herself--even though cleaning the bathroom was a regular duty of people in her position, she refused to do so. She complained over and over again about how much money the company made, and how little she and her co-workers did and how little those who made the clothing made. By the time the book was over, I was just plain tired of listening to her complain. The reality is that if her company was making money (the goal of any business) then they were doing better than those retailers who went bankrupt that year.
I'm not doubting anything she said about her work environment, her co-workers, the management style or anything else about the job--what I doubt is that it was all that horrible. She had a part-time job that didn't require her to work in extreme temperatures, that was relatively low on the danger scale, and that, from everything I've heard, could be very flexible to work around other things in her life. It is a job that does not have many formal educational requirements. In short, it is a job almost anyone can perform at some level. I have to wonder how much more Kelly would be willing to pay for her clothes in order to give raises to all those people she thinks should be paid more?
I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley. Grade: C