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
The Mall Was Dead, Except for the JC Penney
   (Getty Images)

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. (More mall stories.)

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