Today was a bittersweet occasion, we had a luncheon to celebrate the retirement of the head of our retail division and his right hand lady. Our visitors' centers have attractive gift shops with a diverse array of interesting products that are not commonly found in retail shops. Our retiring head of retail, a debonnaire Frenchman, was with the organization for twenty-two years, and his right hand, who he described as "Only five feet tall, or maybe four-point-eight, but very strong", was with the organization for twenty years... not too shabby a run.
In his farewell speech, our departing friend made sure to name all of the sales and stock personnel in his department, as well as the volunteers who assist the retail team. He recalled his hiring- his was the last resume to arrive in response to a help-wanted ad, and the head of H.R. almost passed it by, thinking that he'd seen the best candidates. Upon perusing this late-arriving resume, he reconsidered the hiring decision and arranged an interview. In the pre-GPS days, the candidate decided to make a dry run- driving to the office the day before and timing the trip so he knew how long the trip would typically take (it's been ten years since I've had to appear for a job interview, and I would always do this as well). When he arrived for the interview, he answered all of the typical questions and then was asked a poser: "Are you tough?" He recounted that this question worried him, he really thought he'd blow it, but he answered in the best possible fashion: "I'm fair."
In his twenty-two years, his impeccable taste transformed the gift shops into shopping destinations, apart from the sites themselves. He adapted to changing tastes and trends while maintaining a classy environment with quality merchandise. More importantly, he treated his underlings in a courteous, kindly fashion, making sure that their needs were accommodated and taking his entire staff out to lunch after the close of the tourist season. When Christmastime rolled around, he made sure to give everybody on staff a nice little present, such as a package of chocolates or cookies.
I had the good fortune to finally meet his husband for the first time today. He is also retiring, so the two of them will be able to spend time traveling between New Jersey and Europe whenever the mood takes them. They make a lovely couple, and I'm sure that they will grow old gracefully.
I will also miss our assistant manager, a small, cute lady with a small, cute car. She was the one to deal with vendors, with accounts payable, with lugging merchandise from site to site, no small feat for a small lady with a small car. Her grace and humor will be missed.
Our head of retail closed his farewell speech with a quote from Andy Warhol concerning the future of retail: "All department stores will become museums, and all museums will become department stores." It was just the funny sort of line with which to close a bittersweet speech, and an appropriate line as well- with his good taste and commitment to presenting a higher class of merchandise sourced from all over the globe, our shops straddled that line nicely.