Retail Life

After losing her job as a journalist, Caitlin Kelly was hard up for cash. When she saw that The North Face–an upscale outdoor clothing company–was hiring at her local mall, she went for an interview almost on a whim. She tells the story of what happened next in her book Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail and at M&Q. She’ll be in the store at 7:30pm, Thursday, August 11. Details are here.

Suddenly she found herself, middle-aged and mid-career, thrown headfirst into the bizarre alternate reality of the American mall: a world of low-wage workers selling overpriced goods to well-to-do customers. At first, Kelly found her part-time job fun and reaffirming, a way to maintain her sanity and sense of self-worth. But she describes how the unexpected physical pressures, the unreasonable dictates of a remote corporate bureaucracy, and the dead-end career path eventually took their toll. As she struggled through more than two years at the mall, despite surgeries, customer abuse, and corporate inanity, Kelly gained a deeper understanding of the plight of the retail worker.

In the tradition of Nickel and Dimed, Malled challenges our assumptions about the world of retail, documenting one woman’s struggle to find meaningful work in a broken system.

A regular contributor to The New York Times since 1990, Caitlin Kelly has also written for USA Today, New York Daily News, Toronto Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, and More. Born and raised in Canada, she has lived in the U.S. since 1988.–David E