Jon Dawson: How do stores exist without employees?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Earlier this week I tried to shop at a chain store. This is my story.

First and foremost, we should all strive to shop at local businesses. Last year, I was able to knock out 70% of my Christmas shopping at mom-and-pop stores based in Lenoir County. The remainder was handled online through the ‘Zon and the big box stores – who at one time were filled with local employees.

Tax Deduction #2 found an item in a catalog that she thought would be a perfect gift for Mom, known to readers of this column as The Wife. As you may remember from columns of Christmas past, The Wife has never given a hint for a present in her life, unless you count the year she mentioned needing a new can opener – and it wasn’t even the plug-in kind.

The gift TD#2 found was in fact a great idea. I suggested we order it from a local store in case it needed to be exchanged. We then leaped into the internet and eventually found a store that could deliver the item before Easter. According to the shiny Google machine, the item would be available for pickup in two days.

The chain store in question is located in Goldsboro. I won’t reveal the name of the store, but it rhymes with the name of a bandleader/accordion wizard who from 1951 through 1982 hosted a weekly musical show on television. The program featured a cast of singers and dancers performing incredibly stiff versions of hit songs that made Pat Boone’s body of work seem downright funky by comparison. 

For the record, when our Tax Deductions were little kiddos, they loved to put on a dress (like the ladies on the show) and dance along with them. In the case of the clip below, it seems the person who chose songs for the show had a demented sense of humor:

I walk into the store and find a sign at the first cash register that reads “SORRY BUT THIS CASH REGISTER IS CLOSED, BUT WE’LL BE HAPPY TO HELP YOU AT THE NEXT ONE.” I’d taken a deep breath before entering the store, so I was in good shape.

After a leisurely stroll, I found myself at the next cash register which also housed a sign that read “SORRY BUT THIS CASH REGISTER IS CLOSED, BUT WE’LL BE HAPPY TO HELP YOU AT THE NEXT ONE.” There wasn’t much left from that deep breath that I took before entering the store, but I soldiered on to four more registers with the same result.

Boxwoods have landed at Bannister’s Fine Gifts, located at 106 West Railroad Street in La Grange.

As I stood in the middle of the store and scanned the horizon for another life form, I noticed a man and his wife had set up camp under a rack of shoes. We shared a knowing look and he handed me a pair of binoculars and a canteen of drinking water.

“We came into the store four days ago and have yet to find anyone who works here,” the grizzled shopper said. “There’s still hope for you. We’re too weak to continue. Please tell the world our story!”

I continued circling the store, stopping every half-hour to hydrate and check the perimeter for any type of activity. Just as I was about to convert a cardboard store display into shelter for the night, I heard the sound of plastic clothes racks rattling off in the distance. With my final gasp of energy, I made my way across a sea of discounted slacks and dress shirts to find a fellow customer.

“I can’t believe I found you!” I exclaimed. “I was about to write out my last will and testament with a stick of lipstick at the perfume counter!”

“Are you okay, baby?” she asked in a motherly tone. “You’re not on that junk, are you?”

Avoid the box store blues with a trip to Blizzard Building Supply, located at 405 Walston Avenue in Kinston.

I explained that I’d been in the store for quite a while and was unable to find an employee.

“I think there’s someone working at that register over there,” she said while pointing north. “Either that or my cataracts are on the move.”

The Shopper With No Name was right. After a short walk, I found myself at a cash register with an actual employee. There was a lady in front of me trying to return four pairs of pants. Every time the employee scanned a tag on said pants, the cash register made a noise comparable to a cat yacking up a lawn chair. 

Normally standing in line for half the winter waiting for someone to return a pair of pants would try my patience, but I was resolved to keep it between the ditches. Even after the cashier realized she and the customer were 84th cousins and they proceeded to trace their family tree back to the 1800s, I just smiled like a putz and buried any Harry Calahan-esque notions deep within my psyche. 

Eventually, a second employee appeared, seemingly out of thin air or possibly another dimension. I told him I was there to pick up an item ordered from their website. The man then looked at me as if his faceplate would pop off, exposing a series of wires and fuses.

“For future reference, the place to pick up all web orders is over there,” he said while pointing to an empty register four feet away from the register where we were standing.

After hearing these words escape from the mouth of the cyborg behind the register, the Harry Calahan notions raced up my spine with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Even though I was now more (naturally) juiced-up than Lance Armstrong at a Barry Bonds celebrity golf tournament, I maintained an even keel.

“Just so you know, there hasn’t been a human being stationed at that register since Jimmy Carter was in office,” I said. “I’m not sure what the difference is between this register and the other register other than about four feet, but if this ceremonial gesture will appease the ye great retail shaman, I’ll meet you over there.”

After producing a receipt, validation email, order number, proof of residency, blood sample, fingerprint, eye scan, and a note from my mother, the borg handed over the item. I made my way back to my Chevrolet Impala and rode off into the sunset. I can only now pray that we ordered the right size. 

Jon Dawson’s books are available at

You can hear Jon Monday through Friday on the Bryan Hanks Show:

The Bryan Hanks Show airs on 960-AM in Kinston, and daily at 7 a.m. & 3 p.m. It also airs on the suite of stations in New Bern and Greenville (107.5-FM) at 6 p.m. Archived shows are available at

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