The reaction of 5-year-old Jared as he proudly walked out of the Crate & Barrel store made my day.
Moments earlier, he had walked over to the cash register counter at the chain’s store at Short Pump Town Center, placed four holiday plates on the counter and excitedly announced he was buying them for his kindergarten teacher — using his mom’s credit card, of course.
The heartwarming moment came near the end of my hectic shift at Crate & Barrel, where I had worked as a retail clerk for one day in December 2007 to give readers a look at what the job entails. As the retail reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch at the time, I wanted to provide a different perspective of what it’s like to work during the holiday retail frenzy when tempers can flare.
For a decade, until December 2009, I worked each holiday season at a different retailer — including Walmart, Bath & Body Works, Circuit City, Costco, Saks Fifth Avenue, Build-a-Bear Workshop, Hecht’s and Bass Pro Shops — and then wrote a story based on that experience. I was not paid by the stores. Employers knew of my identity; customers did not.
Now, 14 years later, the memory of Jared buying those plates at the Crate & Barrel store is still stuck in my mind. I have thought about that occasion and many other memories recently as I announced my departure from The Times-Dispatch after 35 years. My last day was Friday.
As I turn the page on this long, thrilling and adrenaline-charged chapter of my professional life, I’m excited to begin a new one. (More on that later.)
Working as a clerk at the holidays was a highlight for me during my career — and it resonated with readers. Even though I stopped doing it in 2009, I still get asked often by readers about where am I going to be working at the holidays.
Another highlight in my career came in November 2008, when I wrote an in-depth and hard-hitting piece about how consumer electronics retailer Circuit City Stores Inc. went from good to great to gone. The story ran just days before the struggling retailer filed for bankruptcy protection, which ultimately meant the Henrico County-based retail giant closed all of its stores several months later.
The story of Circuit City was one of missteps and missed opportunities in a rapidly changing marketplace. But it was one that I had aggressively reported on since becoming the newspaper’s retail reporter in 1993. Circuit City was a big national chain, and readers here wanted to know what was going on there.
Sniffing out the news was tough at times, but it was fun.
The job gave me a front-row seat to some other big stories such as the rise and fall of catalog showroom chain Best Products, crate-style furniture retailer This End Up and home furnishings giant Heilig-Meyers. I also got to write about the growth of automotive giant CarMax (I started writing about the company before it was called CarMax) and the region’s budding entrepreneurial community.
Many of my stories focused on the tremendous development growth in the Richmond area from Short Pump Town Center and Stony Point Fashion Park to the Scott’s Addition and Manchester neighborhoods. (I never would have guessed that Scott’s Addition would blossom so much with apartments, entertainment venues and offices.)
And, of course, I wrote about Ukrop’s Super Markets — from when the family-owned iconic grocery chain was rapidly growing to its sale in 2010. A decade later, I was still writing about Ukrop’s — this time about the opening of Ukrop’s Market Hall at Horsepen Road and Patterson Avenue in Henrico in December 2020. The market is run by Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods, the company created after the family’s grocery stores were sold to make bakery items and prepared foods for other grocery chains.
Over the years, my job took me to Las Vegas to cover the Consumer Electronics Show (I got to ride a Segway with Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and met Barbara Eden of “I Dream of Jeannie” TV fame) and to Paris when local auto dealer Haywood B. “Huddy” Hyman Jr. opened dealerships for the tiny two-seater Smart car.
For many years since 1993, I authored the Biz Buzz column in Monday’s Metro Business section. The column allowed me to write about the openings and closings of stores, the comings and goings of local businesses, and the introductions and failures of products and concepts.
Because my photo appeared with the column, readers often have stopped me in the grocery store, at the mall, in church and even in New York City — yes, nine Richmond-area women spotted me at a restaurant in the Tribeca neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in 2003 — to tell me how much they enjoy reading the column or to pick my brain.
For the past 11 ½ years, I have proudly occupied the seat as the RTD business editor, where I got to oversee the newspaper’s business news staff and its robust and informative coverage (and I still continued to write) while also serving other functions including as moderator to the RTD’s Metro Business Live quarterly discussions and as emcee for the newspaper’s Top Workplaces presentation programs.
It wasn’t all work and no play for me. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel the world — I’ve been to Italy (my favorite) more than a dozen times, France, Ireland, Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe. I even trekked to Taipei, Taiwan, to hear my opera-singing cousin perform (and then we headed to China to see, among other things, the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square in Beijing).
But now I’m putting down my pen and notebook and trading the journalism life to become the communications director of RVA757 Connects, an organization that promotes economic development in the mega-region extending from Richmond to Hampton Roads. I look forward to the new challenges and another opportunity to make a difference.
I’m proud of my time at the RTD and am grateful and honored to work with some of the finest and dedicated journalists. (A plug: Please continue supporting local journalism. It is so important to our democracy.)
I also certainly will miss the readers and sources I have cultivated over the past three decades.
Writing this farewell column has been hard. Change can be tough.
But I remember some inspiring words a source gave me years ago: Every time you close the door on one thing, you open the door on a new opportunity.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity.
Gregory J. Gilligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org CommentsYour notification has been saved. There was a problem saving your notification.
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