The Mindful Melophile

    Adventures in Shopping Badly

    Issue 152

    'Tis the season to be shopping and time once again for retailers to be visited by the ghosts of customers past. In the spirit of the holidays, here are several anecdotes taken from my own experiences with customers.

    Customer: “There’s a violin in it.”

    Sales Manager: “What did you say?”

    “I just heard a beautiful piece of music on the radio. It had a violin in it. I want to buy it.”

    “Do you remember the name of the radio station? Was it the classical music station? If so, we can look it up on their playlist or call the station…”

    “I don’t know. There was a violin in it.”

    “OK. Was it a solo violin?”

    “I don’t remember.”

    “Was it a violin with another instrument? Perhaps a piano?”

    “I’m not sure.”

    “Was it part of a small group of instruments? A violin with an orchestra?"

    “There was a violin in it.”

    “Without more information I can’t really help you…”

    “I guess you don’t have it. Thanks for checking.”

    When I was the sales manager at a classical music store, I met many wonderful people and had the pleasure of helping enthusiasts find the recordings they were looking for.

    I also had to deal with arrogant customers, litigious customers, and customers who thought they were entitled to impose their own rules on everyone else. Like the customer who raced into the store and announced that her husband had presented her with a gift certificate to the classical music store even though she didn’t want to shop there. After finding some discs to buy she threatened to sue me personally because I wouldn’t ring up her sale. (I couldn't because I was still helping the customer ahead of her.) I explained that only one employee worked during each shift and I would be happy to help her in a moment. She leaned on the counter, phone in hand with her lawyer's number prominently displayed, and complained in a loud voice to anyone who would listen about being forced to wait while I assisted another person.

    One slightly irregular customer who always behaved badly needed me to look up a very esoteric recording. After searching on the computer for about a half hour I located the disc and asked her if she wanted to order it. “Oh, no, I just wanted you to find the information. Tell me the name of the label so I can buy it on Amazon.” Another time I was playing a recording of popular opera arias when Ms. Irregular arrived. She screamed at me from the only place in the store that didn't have an acoustic dead spot: “You’re crazy! That music and singer are horrible! You should see a psychiatrist!” Of course, everyone turned around to look at me – the guy with such poor taste in music he was in desperate need of therapy. After that incident I made sure to play the disc every time I saw her having a beverage at the coffee bar.

    Another customer browsed for a while, grabbed an armful of LPs, and exited to show them to her friend who was waiting outside. She didn’t ask if she could remove the merchandise from the store but I was able to watch her from the counter. When she returned she replaced the LPs and grabbed some more vinyl to show her friend. At that point I explained in as pleasant a manner as possible (a major accomplishment since I hadn’t started seeing a musicologist psychologist yet) that merchandise should stay in the store until it was paid for. Nothing personal. Store policy. She admitted she knew the policy, apologized for removing the LPs without asking, and had her friend come into the store to look at other selections.

    Several days later a poison pen letter to the editor appeared in one of the local papers. The writer complained she would never return to a certain music store because the manager accused her of stealing. The customer neglected to mention she was aware of our policies or that I trusted her when she removed LPs the first time. Or how I politely explained our policies without accusing anyone of anything.

    Then there were the hunters and gatherers...customers who would gather handfuls of discs, decide they didn't want them, and finally drop the recordings anyplace in the alphabetized bins. (It’s hard to locate a Mozart sonata for someone if it's been categorized under Stravinsky.) And there were customers who just seemed to enjoy the hunt. They would ask if we sold a particular disc, start inquiring about other discs before I had a chance to show them the one they wanted, race around the store searching for another title, find it without even looking at the previous disc they asked for, start inquiring about another CD (repeat this chase sequence several times)… then exit without buying any of the recordings.

    My most entertaining customers were the people intimidated by classical music. They marched into the store eager to buy something like Adele's latest album, looked around, and stopped dead in their tracks. You could see them thinking, “Whoa! It’s classical music! Which circle of hell is this?” When they realized we only sold classical music they pivoted and ran out, horror-struck, looking as if they had just spotted the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

    So it goes. Come visit the music store anytime. Buy a disc of opera arias and you, too, can terrorize your family and friends. Looking for something else? Just remember to tell the staff if it has a violin in it.

    This article originally appeared in Copper Issue 65 and has been revised.

    5 comments on “Adventures in Shopping Badly”

    1. Reading this, you must have had a somewhat short or limited stretch at the record store counter to highlight these experiences so concisely in this column. Many shoppers in the "Classical" aisles are often distracted, bewildered, or simply challenged by flipping through unfamiliar performances to the one that drew them into the shop: they rely your expertise as well as take issue with it.

      Adele, Green Day . . . .

    2. I finally located the book I was looking for and walked up to the sales counter in the music department. I asked the clerk, “What was that piece you played a while ago? It was like opera, but better!” He turned around, looked at a stack of CDs, and with a grin handed me Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, the new recording (at the time) with Dawn Upshaw. I kept on describing it that way for years when I introduced it to other people.

    3. I assume most readers here are old enough to be familiar with Tower Records. They had stores all across the country.

      Aside from their large selection of musical types, one thing I appreciated was that some stores had classical, sometimes with jazz, in a separate room. That offered two advantages. One, you were saved from hearing whatever was being played on the "house" music system. And two, there was a clerk assigned to the room who actually knew something about the music offered there.

      I doubt that could help anyone looking for a specific recording "with a violin in it". But they were certainly helpful to me several times.

    4. I'm happy to add the entire staff at our classical music store was knowledgable and always very helpful. Many customers returned to tell us how pleased they were with our service and suggestions. But in this instance, I was hoping that person could give me at least one other clue. If he heard the piece playing in our store, I almost certainly could have figured out what he was looking for. But something heard on an unnamed radio station at an unknown time on an unknown day? With no other information about the music he heard? There was nothing even close I could show him.

      And yes, the Dawn Upshaw recording is still my favorite.

    5. Sadly it is the the sign of the times David Brooks did a fine piece in the NYTimes about our social unraveling which he classifies as dire. I say buckle up this is not going away as the pandemic will keep mutating and political division will continue to promote division and civil unrest.There are many presumed causes these are two. Times they are changing and I fear for our kids and grandkids what will our country become what will become of the earth as climate changes and people migrate in search of hope.

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