Dear Wild-Eyed Store Manager…

I’m going to pull a Letters to People I Hate moment here and rant about an incident I had a couple of hours ago. As I was sitting in my car, post-craziness, I replayed the conversation I’d just had that resulted in my getting booted out of a local health food store I frequent often.

Dear Wild-Eyed Store Manager at FfL,

First, let me please apologize for offending your sensibilities by taking photographs in your store. It was not my intent to upset you; in fact, I was taking the photos to write a blog post expounding the virtues of shopping at your establishment. Still, I understand why some people might not want photos taken. Let’s start at the beginning, though, shall we? The part at which I was taking a photo of the gluten-free aisle sign and you blazed up to me.

When I entered the store, I was going to ask permission to take photos. However, all of your employees were very busy with lines at the cash registers and I didn’t wish to interrupt them. Each employee I encountered throughout the store was assisting a customer. I opted to start shooting – not people, mind you; just products. If someone were to ask me to stop, I of course would.

I have worked in the retail industry, and I have dealt with all manner of batshit-crazy people while I served my time there. I know customers find really clever and bizarre things to do in a public store, and thus, I was quietly going about my business, making very sure not to aim my camera in anyone’s direction. I opened cooler doors, took my photo and closed them again quickly, so as to conserve the cold.

Perhaps in response to a customer or employee complaint, you charged up to me, eyes wide and paranoid. “Is there a problem,” you asked, looking at me as if I were plotting a terrorist attack against the gluten-free foods. It wasn’t the best opening line. I mean, if there were a problem, I wouldn’t be taking photos of a sign. I’d be complaining to you, the apparently anxiety-riddled store manager.

You are a woman probably a few years my senior – I assume you have seen many shenanigans in your time, as well. I was confident in my ability to explain what I was doing and why, and then I would either be allowed to carry on, or I would stop. I was wholly unprepared for the flavor of crazy you were sporting.

This is a nearly verbatim record of our exchange:

“Hi,” I began. “I’m sorry, I’m just taking some pictures for a blog post I’m writing about where to find gluten-free and organic foods locally.”

I’m not sure why I started out apologizing… probably because I grew up in small-town mid-Michigan, where we are taught to be excruciatingly polite. Clearly, you were upset, and I was the source. Also, you are in the customer service industry, and I know some of the daily bull you have to deal with, so I wanted to be nice to you. So I apologized. You were not appeased; in fact, you grew increasingly alarmed.

“What kind of an article? Who are you with?”

“Oh no, I’m sorry, I’m not affiliated with any group; it’s just my own little private blog. It’s just a post to show people the things you carry.” You know; so they can come buy them.

“Well I don’t know you, I don’t know what you’re doing.”

Your eyes, somehow, grew increasingly wide, your expression more paranoid and skeptical, as if you had just caught me doing something very, very naughty, and I was trying to cover it up with these crazy lies about trying to do something nice for your store.

“It’s just a post about where people with gluten intolerances can find a good variety of products – here, in your store. If it’s a problem, I’ll stop.”

“So it’s a publicity piece? What kind of publicity? Are you with the Celiac’s Association?” Your voice ramped up several notches in pitch.

“No, it’s just me – I’m not with any group. It’s not so much a publicity piece as an informational blog post. If you’d rather, I can stop.”

“It’s just that I don’t know what you’re doing.”

Explaining what I was doing wasn’t getting me anywhere. I was tempted to start taking your picture, too – my own inner jerkface was starting to surface. Instead, I maintained my calm demeanor.

“I’m very sorry. Clearly you’re uncomfortable with this. I’ll stop, I’m sorry.” I looked for the third arm that must have just sprouted out of my head as I spoke those words.

“I don’t know you, I don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t know what you’re doing!!! I don’t know what your blog is!

Because it might be “Bomb the Health Food Stores – Here Are Helpful Photos to Show You How!”

Your voice was nearing a shrill screech. Clearly, you were having a bad time.

“It’s ok, really. I’ll stop and I’m sorry.”

I gave up trying to provide reassurance that I wasn’t doing anything nefarious and was trying to find an exit from the tailspinning conversation. You moved slightly, as if to block me were I to try to make a run for it. Seriously? You were looking right at me; do I look like someone who would make a break for it? I am an adult, and I will calmly discuss the matter with you, and then I will leave in a normal manner.

“I guess I am uncomfortable with what you’re doing,” you said, nodding in an exaggerated fashion, as if you were suddenly speaking to a child.

“That’s fine. I’ll go put [the camera] in my car and just do my shopping.”

“I think it would be best if you just left.”

At that point, it was probably my eyes that went all apoplectic, and I felt my eyebrows shoot to the roof. Instead of trying to pin down why you were so paranoid, I simply left and caught Barbara (whom I was to meet in the store) in the parking lot. Perhaps you thought I was trying to get evidence of your prices. Perhaps you thought I was with some organization that would defame you. Perhaps you thought I was going to carry out a terrorist attack against the gluten-free foods upon which I now rely. Whatever your reasoning, the emotional overtones of the conversation were among the weirder and least expected I have experienced in a public forum.

I was not trying to stalk your store. I promise.

While you were well within your rights to ask me to leave (it is, after all private property, and you were acting as an agent of the owner,) I was also well within mine to take photographs in your place of business. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, and in fact, as soon as you confronted me, I explained what I was doing, and then offered to stop immediately when it became clear you were so upset. I understand why you might not want me taking photos, and it is your right to ask me to stop. I’m a decent person – I wouldn’t have even tried to argue with you. In fact, I wasn’t trying to argue with you above – I was trying to answer your questions and address your concerns.

You don’t need any publicity generated by the 100 people who will see my blog post; I realize this. I’m not going to write a letter to my Congressman about what a douchenozzle you were to me, and how you embarrassed me. In fact, I realize it is chiefly my embarrassment that is provoking this very post. Well, that and my utter astonishment at being thrown out of your store, and your inability to comprehend what I was telling you.

I’ll still put up the post about the good selection of organic and gluten-free products your store carries. There’s no sense in trying to stage some sort of mini-boycott because you’re a nervous chihuahua of a person.

In fact, I’ll still keep shopping there. I like FfL. The prices are exorbitant, but the quality and variety of your products is very good. In an age of increasing online orders, I want to keep my money at a local establishment and encourage others to do the same.

For today, however, Barbara and I drove one block over to the East Lansing Food Co-Op and did our shopping there, laughing and incredulous about your overreaction.

I hope your day improves, Wild-Eyed Store Manager, and I truly am sorry to have racked up your blood pressure this afternoon.

In the meanwhile, please enjoy these intensely offensive photographs of your establishment. I’m sorry they are not of better quality; I was interrupted by a crazy person before I had a chance to review them.


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3 responses to Dear Wild-Eyed Store Manager…

  1. I have a gluten-free friend (by choice not necessity) who drinks that gluten-free beer. She says it’s okay if you don’t expect it to taste like beer. And that’s it’s a bit of an acquired taste. Not being a beer drinker or gluten free, I declined the chance to taste it myself. Please post if you try it. I’m curious.

  2. Barbara

    New Grist Mill beer is good. Our son’s friends (not gf) have tried it and liked it.

  3. Totally enjoyed this post… I have been eyed suspiciously for taking photos in stores, as well, though I’ve learned that it’s best to hurry and snap just one or two quick shots before I get caught. That seems to work rather well (that, or asking permission, which–as you pointed out–isn’t always feasible). You are definitely the bigger person to still shop there and have nice things to say about their selection. I think I’m just the sort of brat who would boycott them forever. 🙂

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