January 14, 1998, was the date officially listed as my hire date at Winn-Dixie. I was 18 years old, and it was my entry into the work force. My goals were simple: work long enough to get enough money saved up for college, go for an accounting degree. While I did eventually go to college for three semesters part-time, I loved what I was doing enough – and was moving up fast enough – that I decided to stick with the grocery store. In the long run, that first job set me up for where I’m at in my life today, and laid out the possibilities that could still await me.
Location #175 in Camilla, GA, was probably the smallest store I ever worked at in the thirteen years I wound up spending in retail. It was also the longest amount of time I worked in one spot; seven years total, from that first day in 1998 until 2004, and then for one more year starting in 2006 before I moved away. I knew that store inside-out even before I started. To this day if I go shopping somewhere I know where I can find everything just based on learning the layout of #175.
Throughout those seven years, I met a lot of great people, many of whom I’m still friends with fifteen years later. The last few times I’ve gone back “home” I’ve always told everybody to meet me at W-D. I felt especially happy when I walked through those aisles once again with my wife and our first child. I looked at her and said, “This is what Daddy used to do for a living.”
Now, I’m proud of all the other places I’ve worked in, but there’s just something so special about the first job. To this day if I dream about work, even my current factory job, somehow that store works its way into the dream. I think its because there were so many good memories about that place, even though there were times I got frustrated like young people are prone to do. (Worst moment: a lady arguing with me about the price of a Christmas tree, and me being a bit of a smartass. I’ll leave it at that.)
January 14, 2013, was the date that I logged into my Facebook and saw one of my old bosses post that Winn-Dixie #175 was being closed down. For me, being a thousand miles away, I felt helpless. I went through a store closing myself when they closed down #192 in Cairo, GA, but this hurt worse than that. I thought #175 would be open forever, or at least replaced – as I said for YEARS – with a larger store. You may be reading this thinking, “But, grocery stores close all the time, especially with a new Wal-Mart moving in.” This was different. I was quite looking forward to (hopefully) going to visit this year and once again dropping into the place where I first started my working life, this time with our oldest now old enough to kind of appreciate the magnitude of what she was seeing, and with our second daughter, and say, “This is what Daddy used to do for a living.”
Again, you may say, “But its just a grocery store.” Not to me. It was the place where I first went into management, and I could finally relate to the enormity of the job my dad did as a shift supervisor and plant manager. It was where I met my first girlfriend, whose words about finding love either, “a thousand miles away or right under your nose,” proved accurate about six years later when I had moved a thousand miles away and eventually met my wife – again, in a grocery store – and we eventually had two daughters and want to try for one more child before we get too much older. It was the place where I realized that I could do anything I put my mind to when, in a single week, I got promoted to assistant store manager and had to train my office replacement, a new office closer, and oh yeah, roll out a new accounting procedure every store in the chain struggled with. Day one, we were perfect! At the end of the week, we were off a mind-boggling low seventeen CENTS! I worked in retail for thirteen years, and I never saw another week come close to that! It was the place where, to this day, I sometimes say to myself, “This person reminds me of that person I worked with in Camilla so much, its like they were separated at birth!” I gave so much of myself to that store in those seven years that it wasn’t just a job, it wasn’t just a grocery store… it was and still is in my soul. Call me corny, but its how I feel. And when I talk about job achievements, I bring up that time in Camilla more than I do anything else I’ve done in my life.
And if I may just get this bit of rambling off my chest, part of me is sitting here a thousand miles away confused as to why Wal-Mart was worth the effort of saving knowing full well that it would result in Winn-Dixie closing. And yes I was one of those who thought Wal-Mart was worth saving down there, ONLY because I didn’t want to see Camilla lose any businesses and jobs. Maybe I was naive in thinking then, “I know the end result will be Winn-Dixie being threatened with closing, but the city won’t allow it to happen, much like they didn’t let this happen to Wal-Mart.” Is it because the mayor of Camilla isn’t the same mayor now as it was then and he allowed this to happen?
Last night I had a dream. Yes, it involved Winn-Dixie #175 in Camilla, GA, again. But I was standing in the office once again, with my white shirt, clip-on tie and black dress pants on once again. And I stood at the office door and watched as the shelves emptied without being re-stocked, the customers dwindled away, and the lights went out one final time. I woke up with a tear in my eye. Tonight I learned that today was the final day of business for Winn-Dixie #175. It just doesn’t feel real to me to say that.
For all of those who I worked with, it was an honor and a privilege to work alongside you. For all of those in Camilla who shopped there, it was my pleasure to serve you. :)