I wondered for weeks if I should even write this, because I shouldn’t even have to write this. Well, I do. It’s a call for common and honest human interaction, but in a world where endlessly gazing at your phone counts for appropriate behavior at dinner in a fine restaurant, I’m not alone in the ambition to re-establish some very new and necessary rules for how to be nice, if not fashionably polite.
It seems that in recent years, “social awkwardness” is not just thrown around to magically absolve many, many outright bad behaviors but also to excuse out-and-out cruelty, and yet it’s also somehow becoming a prized and adorable trait. To those of you who will toss those two words to me to refute this post, I ask you… Do you even know me? Hi, I’m April, and I’m definitely the postergirl for “socially awkward.” Just ask anyone I went to junior high, high school, college or especially church with as a kid how awkward I was. It still never stopped me from minding my manners. In fact, I wonder sometimes if actually having manners is what makes me socially awkward in the first place…
Anyway. Let’s move on.
In case you’re new to this blog or to my world, I own a small (seriously, small) business– a fashion fabric boutique in Austin, Texas. It has just over 1000 square feet, and 95% of the time this place is open, I’m holding down the fort. I’ve put my literal blood, sweat and tears into this business (the blood and sweat parts building the fixtures by hand, as well as a few challenging sewing jobs.) I put my life savings, my severance from my former employer, my kid’s college fund, and my entire credit limit into opening and maintaining this shop. I hand curate every fiber of fabric in here. I lovingly clean, tidy, fluff, tuck, and drape everything in the store, every day.
What bothers me is this– saying hello. It costs nothing. It hurts no one. When you walk into my shop, or any other mom n’ pop small business, SAY HELLO. I make it a point to say hello or even ‘WELCOME’ to every single person that walks into my shop. Is that annoying to some folks? Well, I guess it is, because on a daily basis, I get responses such as a smirk, an eyeroll, yelling “JUST LOOKING!” at me, or even the dreaded total lack of acknowledgement of my existence. Worse, they leave without making a peep (which, I don’t know if you realize, looks an awful lot like storming out or– EEK!– shoplifting!) I spend more time and definitely way more money on this store than I do in my own home, and if you treated me like that at my house, I would ask you to leave. I’m serious.
Look, I used to work at Macy’s and Coach. I know how annoying the salespeople at department and chain stores can be, because I used to have to be one. Honey, this ain’t Nordstrom. This is a local, independent business that would not even exist if I didn’t make extreme personal sacrifices to make it so.
This rant is not just for me, it’s for every single small business out there– restaurants, indie comedy theaters, food trailers, coffee shops, whatever. Like the GOP hilariously chanted in 2012 elections, WE BUILT THAT. For someone to come in and treat us in a less than dignified manner in the very space we created? It’s an insult.
Maybe they just aren’t aware, I tell myself. Maybe I’m just being too sensitive. You’ll probably say the same thing. Sure, if I were talking about one or two people since we opened our doors, I’d agree. I deal with this daily. It wears on me. As much training as I’ve had in my retail career to treat you as a guest, and as much of an implied threat I get from every soul that enters my shop that I’ll get railed on Yelp later if I so much as focus on another customer more than them (again, I greet EVERYONE, and try to help everyone, too, which is sometimes impossible), the least you could do is 1/10th in return…
So if it’s a lack of awareness, I’m doing my part to change that by writing a blog about it. Say hello to a small businessperson when you enter their domain. Better yet, say goodbye or (GASP) thank you as you leave, even if you don’t buy anything. It probably won’t make their day, but at least it will persist in making them feel human. Being a small business owner is anything but easy, so please be nice to us.
P.S. Don’t ask for discounts. We offer many to those who need it, but let that be our call. Just remember every time you ask a small business for an arbitrary discount, it may literally be coming out of their kid’s college fund. When you lovingly pay full price, think of it as a donation to a kitten or a puppy at a shelter if that makes you feel better. My kid’s just as cute.