Savvy Traveler, Clueless Store Clerk

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One of the best stores in the city for finding travel guidebooks and travel essays is downtown’s Savvy Traveler. God help you if you actually want to make a purchase.

Now let’s get one thing straight. I love browsing Savvy Traveler. The store, at Michigan and Jackson, has about the best, deepest, and quirkiest selection of travel-related books in the Midwest. But after many months of simply being an onlooker, this afternoon I made the woeful mistake of actually trying to buy something.

My almost purchases? The Moon guide to Central California, a copy of John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra”, and a map of Sacramento. About $40 worth of merchandise, give or take, so not a windfall sale but not a 99-cent refrigerator magnet sale, either.

After about thirty happy minutes perusing the shelves, just about at 2 p.m. I brought said selection to the register counter. And waited. And waited. And waited. There were two clerks right in front of me, each standing behind a register. Both were busily trying to hawk product to window-shopping tourists. Neither, however, noticed the growing line of actual, money-in-hand cutsomers.

Instead, one clerk was waiting for a manager’s approval to open a deck of “Dora the Explorer” playing cards, while the other was trying to sell various inflatable neck pillows to another customer. In lieu of asking these just-looking daytrippers to step aside while they pondered their purchasing decisions at length, or having the presence of mind for one clerk to jump in and actually ring the waiting sales, the pair, obviously trained in the Osco method of customer service, simply ignored the line.

I mean big-time ignored. The line I was in waited for almost 10 minutes without once being acknowledged by the unsavvy travelclerks. Not once. Not a glance. Not an, “Excuse me, I’ll be right with you”. Not the merest hint from the store staff that anyone had any intention of ever taking our money. Nothing. Frankly, it was surreal. But more than that, it was a giant shopping turn-off. At 2:10, I interrupted one of the clerks, handed him my merchandise, told him I was done waiting to have the privilege of being his customer, and walked out.

I’ll make my purchase instead at Borders or online at Amazon. Neither of them has ever made me feel like they’re doing me a favor by allowing me to shop with them. But that’s exactly how Savvy Traveler made me feel today.

Not for nothing, but not everyone who shops on Michigan Avenue is a tourist. Some of us are actually locals who would otherwise be regular customers. Such a willfully cavalier attitude on the part of the staff of any retail store, although humorous in the telling, is a great way to lose repeat business. Savvy Traveler’s definitely lost mine.

I mean, the last time I was made to feel this unwelcome, I was standing in line at the DMV. And even they told me how long I could expect to wait.

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