Pioneering Retail

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by Peter E. Schultz

Erin has been wading through boxes of family photos from around 1900. Mixed in the piles she found a note about John Wanamaker’s ground-breaking department store, opened in Philadelphia, 1854. Here are some guidelines that were posted for his employees:

“Store must be open at 6:30 a.m., and remain open until 9 p.m. year around.

The store must be swept, counters, base shelves and show cases dusted. Lamps trimmed, filled and chimneys cleaned; pens made; doors and windows opened; a pail of water and a scuttle of coal must be brought in by each clerk before breakfast, if there is time to do so, and attend to customers who call.

The store must not be open on the Sabbath day unless absolutely necessary, and then only for a few minutes. Any employee who is in the habit of smoking Spanish cigars, getting shaved at the barber shop, going to dances and other places of amusement will most surely give his employer reason to be suspicious of his integrity and all-around honesty.

Each employee must not pay less than $5 per year to the church and must attend Sunday School every Sunday.

Men employees are given an evening per week for courting purposes, and two if they go to prayer meeting regularly.

After 14 hours of work in the store, the leisure time must be spent in reading good literature.”1

Capitalism has endured centuries of ridicule and abuse because its free-market core allows constant refinement. In the capitalist universe, supply and demand determine whether an idea flourishes prominently or fades into failed oblivion.

Today’s workforce would reject Wanamaker’s staff policies as fast as a biotech PhD would turn down a pick-and-shovel job. But the principled lifestyle he demanded of his store personnel is something we might ponder.

There was likely an absence of bulging packages from their crotches, distracting body piercing, and overt disdain for customers’ presence. Maybe the respect that was due all patrons — from the ancient “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” thing2 — had a positive impact on business performance.

In the widest view, morally grounded workers actually boosted the success of Wanamaker’s retail venture where buyers were served with dignity.

In addition to our COVID shackles we might consider ditching egocentric attitudes which have plagued our cocky retail environment. Demand for venues where we hand over hard-earned dollars to snotty clerks is trending downward.

In spite of wannabe hyper intellect jamming gender and race down the throats of all Americans, condescension toward customers who want to spend real money is a poor business model.

Besides, there’s a critical shortage of the pacifiers and diapers store managers have historically needed to coddle immature team members.

Genuinely courteous treatment of people might be catching on. Happy, friendly, peace-filled shopping experiences could soon be the new normal.

Quick, get the word out to graduates who are looking for work!

1 Unknown source

2 Matthew 7:12 (New Living Translation); aka, Golden Rule