Tales from a Gathering Place 2: Watching Friendship from Behind the Register

Yesterday was officially our first day without a mask mandate. We’re one of the last cities to take this step and it’s been a long time coming. At Gather, it feels like people everywhere are finally coming out of the woodwork, shopping for summer clothes, buying that summer dress or pair of strappy sandals that they wouldn’t even consider before the year of pandemic isolation.

Early in the day two teenagers came in and bee-lined for the jewelry counter. They hovered over it, oohing and ahhing over the rings and earrings. Though we’re consignment, we’re not Goodwill and some of the price points can be high for younger folks. The two girls, obviously besties, went back and forth about the $28 earrings and one $58 ring. They talked about whether big or small rings made their fingers look thinner. They talked about their favorite earrings and if they really needed more; if they could wear the jewelry to their summer jobs… Their banter was pure happiness to my eyes and ears. In the end of of the girls splurged on the $28 earrings.

I love working at Gather for this reason. There is joy, so much joy. Later the same day a pair of older women came into the shop. I would guess that they were in their late seventies. They had shopping bags over their arms from other stores in the neighborhood and were moving slowly and peacefully, not a care in the world.

The two women wandered, picking through the racks, looking briefly at some items, and more deeply scrutinizing others. I noticed one of the women kept returning to a boxy beige blazer. She’d pick it up, hold it to her chest then hold it at arm’s length, then a bit closer and put it back on the rack. She’d wander again, looking at the purses and hats, and then return to the beige blazer. Eventually, done with shopping for herself, she plopped herself into a chair and patiently waited for her friend to finish perusing the store.

Her friend was a more enthusiastic and less discerning shopper, and she was in the mood to buy. As she shopped, she gathered blouses on her arm along with her other shopping bags. When I asked if I could start a dressing room for her she shook her head no and said, “Oh no dear, I won’t try these on.” Older women often skip this process. They have enough life experience to know what will work. They’ve been selecting clothing for themselves, and maybe their kids, for over half a century. They know what will fit and what won’t.

Finally, the more zealous shopper was done and I got ready to check her out. As I rang in her items, the friend duo chatted about a pair of size 5 red and black patterned high-heeled shoes one of them wanted to buy for her granddaughter to play dress up. Then the two of them spent a few minutes looking at the earrings on the counter. And as the one friend paid for two blouses and a pair of gaudy earrings for a friend, the other friend went back to the boxy beige blazer and looked at it again.

Being behind the register is one of my favorite places to be. I love to watch the shoppers meander, sometimes separately, sometimes together. Yesterday my day was bookended with two sets of friends — teenagers on one end and wise old elders on the other. The teenagers were just beginning their long journey of friendship and the elders were towards the end of theirs. But friendship is friendship and watching it in action is a wonderful feeling.