Craving a little financial stability, New York-based freelance journalist Caitlin Kelly took a part-time job. In 2007, she applied at the North Face, makers of outdoorsy technical clothing, and joined the tribe of 15 million Americans who work in retail. Malled is Kelly’s clear-headed indictment of how sales clerks are treated like cannon fodder—expendable, in corporate eyes—in an industry that makes up one-fifth of all American businesses. Sales associates, she notes, are the most overlooked and least valued part of the equation.
At first, Kelly liked her part-time job. It was a change from the caustic environment of her last position, at the New York Daily News. The North Face provided four days of paid training, followed by a dinner for the staff. Plus, Kelly could relate to the globe-trotting ambitions of clients in upper tax brackets.
Her initial enthusiasm was soon curbed, however, by the rigidity of head office and the random vitriol of shoppers. Kelly’s book contains lively interviews with retail experts who explain the low pay—labour is the only cost you can cut. Malled shines a flashlight on retail’s hazards, like dehydrating lights, long shifts, dangerous stockrooms and demeaning janitorial duties.
For all her complaining, Kelly worked only one five-hour shift a week, plus three Christmas rushes, over 27 months on the job. (That’s all?) Less amusing is her repetitive boasting, even if it’s intended to illustrate a larger point. Three times, we learn she has visited 37 countries, speaks fluent French and Spanish, and has met the Queen. We are reminded of her excellent sales statistics over eight times, and there are over 15 references to her career accomplishments in journalism. The bragging starts to grate, but her intentions are noble: to speak up for former colleagues stuck in retail hell.