My first real job

July 28, 1983

Dear Diary,

The reason I couldn’t go to golf today was because I worked at Ben Franklin’s for Crazy Daze. And I got a permanent part-time job there for this coming year — on Thursday nights and Saturdays. It will be nice to have some (a lot!) of money for a change. Anyway, I worked hard and am tired.

My first real job came up in conversation with my Adored stepson this week. I remembered undergoing a real job interview, and I was thrilled to be hired as a floor clerk at Ben Franklin on Wadena’s Main Street.

“What’s Ben Franklin?” my stepson asked.

“It’s like a five-and-dime.”

“What’s a five-and-dime?” he asked, still confused.

Alas, I’m part of the ancient generation now who uses arcane language to describe my nostalgic meanderings. Wikipedia’s definition doesn’t help me feel more hip: “Five-and-dime (also know as five-cent stores, dime stores and ten-cent stories) is a type of store that was popular in the early to mid-20th century.”

I’m so last century.

“Um, it’s like a Wal-Mart. Only smaller. Without an automotive department or electronics,” I grasped. “We had a sewing department and a huge toy department and every kind of candy you think of, like Tangy Taffy.”

“Tangy Taffy,” he scoffed, obviously unimpressed.

Back then, candy bars cost a quarter. So even the five-and-dime offered scant options for a nickel or a dime, though I remember Tangy Taffy costing less than chocolate bars.

The first day of work on a hot July day, I patrolled the store’s sidewalk sale, neatening product displays and scaring off shoplifters. I felt important when I clocked in with my time card. I felt rich when I did the multiplication of my hours times my wage; just a few days earlier I was paid $4 for $5 of babysitting (it’s true! I have diary documentation for my slave labor!). Minimum wage in 1983 was $3.85, which made the tedium walking the aisles of Ben Franklin worth every minute.

Unlike today’s 24/7 world, Ben Franklin was only open ’til 5 p.m., except on Thursday nights when all the town’s retail stores stayed open late, and it wasn’t open Sundays. I liked the job better when I was promoted to cashier, which was less boring, and then I capitalized on my experience a year or so later by landing a job as a cashier at Super Valu (a bustling grocery store, one of the only 24/7 retail offerings in Wadena).

Unlike so many other retailers populating Wadena’s downtown in the 1980s, Ben Franklin still exists, only now it’s Ben Franklin Crafts and it stays open ’til 8 most days (5 on Sundays). I was amused to find it has a Facebook page: “Come in with your favorite craft project from Pinterest or Etsy or your imagination and we’ll help you turn in into a finished project for you to enjoy!”

How modern.


2 responses to “My first real job

  1. I call them “five & dimes” or “mom & pops”, loved taking my quarter down the block from my grandma’s and buying a handful of candy! Those were the days baby!!

  2. Pingback: My first real job | Monica Lee

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