Employee Discounts: A Post College Job at Barnes and Noble

For one young woman, a post-college job as holiday help at Barnes & Noble means selling loyalty, slinging deals, getting screwed, and getting even.

| May/June 2013

  • Employee Discounts
    The staff room walls are covered with white boards that look like dry-erase Excel spreadsheets, paper stars with the names of employees who have sold memberships (or cookies, if they work in the café), grainy printouts of shoplifters, and small lockers you are not allowed to leave your things in overnight.
    Illustration By Alicia Suarez
  • Post-College-Job
    "Sorry, can we not talk about work?” he says, “it’s just—“ but you are already apologizing and saying of course, of course. “You know,” says Mark, “I just don’t think work should interfere with us at all.” He twirls a strand of your hair and kisses you on the ear. “And not let other people worry about us either, they don’t need to know we’re a thing.” Of course, you think.
    Illustration By Alicia Suarez

  • Employee Discounts
  • Post-College-Job

Editor’s note: The following story was the 2012-2013 recipient of the Doug Fir Fiction Award, which was judged by Canadian-American writer Rivka Galchen.   

You smooth your new slacks. The tag says “Express,” but you bought them at TJ Maxx, the one just across from the Barnes & Noble, at the Kirkland mall. You are not allowed to wear jeans at Barnes & Noble, or sneakers, or logos of any sort. This is in the “Welcome to Our Team” employee handbook you received last week. You raise your head when Daniel, the store manager, begins to read over the numbers from yesterday. This is your first morning staff meeting and you do not know what these numbers mean. Some are big, like 27,000. Others are small, like 3.022 percent. The other employees nod or offer commentary. A girl with green dreadlocks in an apron reads the café’s numbers. She promises to upsell better today. The Music and DVDs manager reads his numbers without looking up, even though he is not reading off of anything. You like him because he is the Music and DVDs manager. You like him because he looks as uncomfortable as you even though he’s not new. Daniel announces employees who sold memberships. “Ethan sold five memberships, Jenny sold three.” You know who Jenny is because she slowly looks around and coughs like it’s an accident. 

You stand alone behind a row of registers. You play with your nametag, which is not really a nametag, but a plastic card holder strung around your neck holding a piece of cardstock with “Nicole” typed neatly beneath “Did you remember gift cards?” You smile when a customer comes up. You ask them if they found everything they needed. You ask them if they, or anyone in their family, is a Barnes & Noble member. “Would you like to become one for $25?” You list at least two benefits of becoming a member. You ask if they would like any gift cards or gift receipts, because it is that time of the year. You ask if they would like a bag. You smile and slam the cash drawer when they leave. You do this for five hours and then you clean up at the end of the night, even though you do not really know where the stray books go. You stick to straightening up the board games. You did not know there were so many board games.


The music and DVDs manager is smoking in the parking garage when you get off work the next night. You make sure to glance accidentally at him just long enough for him to offer a ride home. He says he would feel bad if you took the bus home in this weather.

His car is cold and it smells like cereal. He says his name is Mark. He asks what you did before you worked at Barnes & Noble. You tell him you got a degree in communications, in Wisconsin. “And a minor in film studies.” You know that you should ask him how long he has worked at Barnes & Noble but don’t, on the off chance he’s sensitive about working so long in a suburban Seattle mall.   

10/27/2014 9:33:16 PM


Facebook Instagram Twitter