Oh Joe, Say It Ain’t So.

rod serling

I was asked to assist a parishioner in an immigration-related meeting in Chicago, and I realized that it would be nice to retire my current, seen-better-days charcoal suit and replace it with a newer one before the trip. I’ve had good experience shopping at Jos. A Bank in the past; they’ve always seemed to offer a good quality, decent looking suit at a reasonable price and with good customer service – attentive without being overbearing. Given my past experience, I looked online and found a couple of suits that I thought I’d like to try, so I reserved them online at one of their two local stores and made plans to go  try them at the end of the day today.

I got to the store at maybe 6:45. As soon as I walked in the door, I saw a well-dressed younger man not ten feet away facing me, fiddling around with something on a rack just in front of him. I got the impression that he worked there, but I wasn’t sure if he did or not since when I walked in the door, he didn’t say hello, or acknowledge me, or even glance up at me. Hmm, maybe I was mistaken and he’s a customer.

As I looked through the rest of the store, I saw an older man speaking with a woman who seemed to be trying to pick out a tie. Clearly, the older man – who from this point on, I’ll call Salesman 1, or just S1 for short – did work there, and the woman was a customer, who I’ll call C2 (I’m C1).

Other than S1, C2, me, and the still uncategorized man just inside the door, there was exactly one other person in the store – a short, husky man wearing a blue blazer and khakis, or maybe tan dress slacks. Like the first man I saw, I couldn’t tell if he worked there or was a customer. As I walked toward him through the store, he lumbered across my path, staring at me, but not saying anything. OK, he must be another customer.

So at this point, that’s the total number of people in the entire store.

Since no one was waiting on me, I made my way over to the suits in my size to scan what they had on the rack while I waited for someone to come over. After doing that for close to ten minutes without anyone asking to help me, I started to walk over to the first, better-dressed uncategorized man I’d seen as I walked in. Just as I got near him to ask if he could help me, he pulled a jacket off a hanger, turned toward me and said, “Oh, I have to see how this looks on me. Mirror, mirror, on the wall….” and he proceeded to go over to a wall mirror and try the jacket on. Oh, well, now I know he is a customer – that could have been embarrassing if I’d asked him for help.

Striking out with him, I then turned my attention to the second uncategorized man, who at that moment had just walked over to a store computer and began typing something in. Ah hah! He *does* work here! (so now we can call this man S2) Getting a bit annoyed by this time, I stand near him waiting for him to finish his typing. When he’s finished, he turns around and looks at me as if I didn’t belong there and half-heartedly asks “Is there something I can do for you?”

Well, yeah… “Yes, I reserved some suits online to try out; I’d like to see them.”

S2 seemed dejected and lumbered to the backroom. He returned and placed one of the suits in a changing room. I tried the suit on. It was a nice (traditional) fit, but I wasn’t sold on the appearance of the fabric, so I slipped the suit off and came back out onto the floor. As I did, I could see that S1 and C2 were still intently trying to find the right tie, and the remaining uncategorized man was milling around the store. I finally saw him refolding some shirts and tidying up the shelves they were on. OK, now I know; he also works here – now we can call him S3. He’s just been ignoring me all this time while trying things on.

By the time I’d come back out, S2 had the second suit. It was a tailored cut – I wasn’t sure if my build could still fit in one of those, so I’d reserved one traditional and one tailored to try for size. This suit was made of a nicer material than the first, and after confirming my suspicions that the traditional cut was the better fit for me, I asked S2 if he had a suit in a traditional cut, but a material the same as or similar to the material of the tailor-cut one.

Upon hearing my question, S2 bit his lip and looked like I’d just asked him to recite the Gettysburg Address in Swahili. “Well – gee, I don’t really know. I’m probably not the best person to ask; I don’t really know that much about the different materials yet; I’ve only worked here since December.”

My inside voice said, “If you’ve been working at a men’s clothing store for at least four months and you still don’t know anything about the suits you’re selling, you’re in the wrong line of work.” My out-loud voice was too stunned to say anything. S2 continued, “I’m going to have to turn you over to ___________ over there (S1); he’s worked here for eleven years. Hey, __________, when you’re free you’ll need to take care of this gentleman.” S1 glanced up at me and grunted, “Oh – OK.” and looked back down as C2 continued her deliberations. And with that, S2 walked away toward the backroom.

I stood there stunned, to be honest. S1 was still standing over C2 as she deliberated over this tie or that one. Across the room, S3 continued fiddling with items on a rack, never looking up.

Just then, another person walked into the store. So now, we have C1, C2, and C3; and S1, S2, and S3. But only for a moment, since at just this moment, S2 reappears and announces to his coworkers that he’s leaving; his shift is over. They call out their goodbyes and tell him they’ll see him tomorrow. I start to wonder if I’ll still be standing here when he gets back.

Meanwhile, C3 walks over to near where S1 and C2 are talking. S1 looks up and asks “Picking up this evening, sir?” “Yes,” C3 replies. At that, S1 looks back down while C2 still ponders, leaving C3 to stand there, just as I’m standing there, feeling a bit foolish and annoyed at this point.

After about five minutes pass, C3 realizes that no one is going to take care of him anytime soon. He looks around and sees S3, still wandering around the store doing nothing and seemingly oblivious to anyone else there. I watch C3 walk across the room, approaching S3. Getting near, he calls out to S3, “I’m sorry, could you take care of me?” At this, S3 holds up a finger to shush him, pulls out his phone, dials a number, and then turns his back on C3 and walks away while talking on his phone.

C3 and I look at each other as if we were in the Twilight Zone. I finally couldn’t take it any more and walked out.

To summarize:

  • I got to the store when there were more sales people than customers.
  • I waited, in retail time, forever for anyone to even acknowledge my presence.
  • When someone did, they proved to be incompetent or intentionally unhelpful so they could dodge out the back door for the end of their shift.
  • One of the three sales people actively refused to offer any assistance to anyone, preferring to just see how they looked in the items for sale.
  • The most experienced sales person there apparently hadn’t learned, in eleven years, how to say “Ma’am, I’ll be right back with you; while you look those over, let me get this man’s order out of the back room for him.”

It was truly the oddest (non-)shopping experience I’ve ever had. I honestly started to wonder if John Quinones was going to suddenly pop out of the backroom, telling me it was all part of a segment for “What Would You Do?” This is the point where I’d usually try to come up with some pithy statement to wrap up with, but honestly, I’m still shaking my head over the whole experience. I’ve always been a satisfied customer of this company in the past, and I’m sure I will again in the future – but today’s experience was just… bizarre. Cue Quinones, or maybe Rod Serling.

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