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Christmas started in September
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In the mad, mad world of retail, the Christmas season starts right after back-to-school sales.

My experience is a distant memory of over a dozen years ago. I was the new guy at the Montgomery Ward store in Stockton. Little did we know back then but this major retailer was on its last leg. Bankruptcy in 2000 eventually led to the closing of all the Montgomery Ward stores – although, an online namesake was launched in 2004 and is still around.

I transferred from the Fresno store, where I shared many great memories there, especially during the holidays.

My first Christmas back in my hometown was shocking, to say the least. On my first day, I was welcomed into my new environment with open arms.

I was given the project to put up the Christmas display. As the new guy, I looked at it as an initiation of sort.

Now what bothered me was that it was September, and not too long after the Labor Day weekend.

I didn’t mind the task at hand, consisting together several of the artificial Christmas trees with schematics that included lights and ornaments.

Nor did I mind putting up the displays for the holidays. At least this gave me a chance to find out where to locate the shelves, brackets and other items necessary to put these things together.

I didn’t need much direction since I was adept at putting displays from years of experience, much to the delight of my new bosses.

Stocking the shelves with toys and games was interesting, to say the least. By then, the store had scaled down substantially, selling these items specifically for the holidays.

One of my favorite memories of that time was my son, Josh, who was only 3. He must’ve thought I had the coolest job in the world, surrounded by all the Christmas toys of the day.

After completing my project, I was working on commission sales in electronics, where televisions and entertainment systems were the big ticket items.

I found working sales on a full-time basis during Christmas was a double edged sword. By that, the money is good but the hours are tremendously long, meaning no time for anything else.

Up until then, my holiday experience in retail had been limited to part-time status.

Black Friday hits you the hardest. Call me naïve, but I had no idea that people actually camped out in front of the store just to get the hot item of the day, which, if I recalled were the electronic toy Furby’s.

Since the days are long, I found that those you work with often become friends. At least that was true in my case.

At Wards, the 12 days of Christmas was a test of fortitude rather than some cheery song of the yuletide. One example of that was having customers come in for an advertised item and being told by one of us that it was not in stock but could be ordered – prepaid, of course, arriving in three to five business days – or, in most case, we could issue a rain check.

Customers often were none too happy, especially since they were hoping to have their order in before Christmas.

The last leg of the holidays was working the day-after Christmas. This day was often as busy as Black Friday but only with customers bringing in return items.

Working retails meant surviving the holidays. That’s long hours, unhappy folks, and the constant playing of the piped-in sounds of Christmas carols on Muzak.

Either way, it wears you down.