The Value of a Dollar by
(165 Stories)

Prompted By Door-to-Door Sales

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I must admit I’ve never sold encyclopedias,  Fuller brushes,  or life insurance door-to-door,  and the closest I’ve ever come to being an Avon Lady was selling costume jewelry at Macys.

When I was in college I lived at home and commuted to NYU.  Many of my high school friends also commuted to local colleges,  and I don’t remember envying others from our class who did go out-of-town.  And although I was still under their roof,  my parents treated me as a college student,  not as a kid,   they didn’t cramp my style,  and within reason allowed me to come and go as I pleased.  In fact my college boyfriend M had a car and usually drove me home after class.  (For more about M see Cherry Coke)

But one day as winter break of my freshman year approached,  my parents sat me down and announced it was time I learned  “the value of a dollar.“

My folks had lived through the Depression, and although they didn’t harp on it,  I was well aware of the financial hardships they had faced and I understood their intent.  And truthfully,  getting a job and making some of my own money was very appealing.

There was a Macys in our Bronx neighborhood, a relatively small store,  nothing like the large flagship store in mid-town Manhattan.  We all shopped at Macys Parkchester and I knew the store like the back of my hand.  And I knew that at Christmas time they hired part-time sales clerks,  so I applied and I got the job.

I was assigned to the costume jewelry counter which was on the main floor strategically placed near the entrance,  and thus had a lot of traffic.  At the time all the rage in costume jewelry were  strands of plastic beads that came in different colors called POP-ITS.  The beads snapped together and thus could be worn “choker or evening length”,  as I told my customers with feigned enthusiasm.

The POP-ITS actually sold like crazy – they made good Xmas gifts I guess – but how anyone could find them attractive,  I’ll never know!

We were paid weekly,  in cash,  and after my first week I proudly showed my parents my little pay envelope.  And I told them that after standing on my feet for hours behind that jewelry counter for minimum wage,   I had learned   “the value of a dollar”.

But although my job lasted several more weeks,  that may have been the only pay envelope I brought home.   Macys offered employees a 20% discount,  and so from then on I came home every week with a new blouse or sweater,  or a pair of new shoes,  but not a single strand of POP-ITS!

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Jobs


  1. Marian says:

    Oh, wow, Dana, now I remember POP-ITS! I think I had a strand for a while … Your story brings up a lot of memories. I never worked in a store exactly, but during summer breaks and weekends when I was in college I worked for the Weber barbecue company and went around to Sears and other stores, where I spent the day cooking turkeys and giving out samples. This warrants a story in itself. I can’t imagine doing that today, even before Covid-19.

  2. Suzy says:

    Yes, I remember pop-it beads too, and I’m sure I had lots of them! Didn’t buy them at Macy’s though. More likely at Woolworth’s! You could trade them with your friends, and mix up the colors – lots of fun for kids, but I can’t imagine adults wearing them. I love that you spent all the money you earned buying Macy’s merchandise with your employee discount. Great story, Dana!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I was just a little kid, but LOVED my POP-ITS. I had them in pearl and red and wore them a lot. But I was like…5 years old, maybe 7. I’m trying to imagine a grown-up wearing them. They were strictly fun, and a choking hazard for little kids).

    But I love that you used your hard-earned wages on purchases for yourself.

    While still at Brandeis, I worked in the theatre box office, and (as I’ve written about on Retrospect), as a life drawing model. That was my spending money. Other than that, before getting married and really going to work, I spent two summers as a camp counselor…very different!

    • Thanx Betsy, as I just told Suzy, I remember that women – not just kids- wore POP-ITS, or maybe that was just in the Bronx where there weren’t too many fashionistas!
      And thinking about costume jewelry, I have a stand of big black clay beads I bought in Mexico 30 years ago for about $2.
      I love them, have restrung them more than once for twenty times what I paid for them!

  4. Love these common memories, Dana! We called them pop-beads, and just saying that makes me remember the distinctive sound they made being joined — as much fun as popping bubble wrap! I’m really surprised they were being sold at a department store…I got mine at a “dime store” and then traded with friends. My faves were the pearly ones.

    Like you, my very first job was working at a department store, first doing inventory during summer vacation, and then I wrapped gifts during the Christmas holidays. Just a very basic wrap with a simple bow but I remember how nervous I was being watched by two “old ladies” (probably at least 20 years younger than I am now) as I tried to wrap my first gift and got flustered. They actually tsk-tsk’ed and I got all teary-eyed, and then they felt so bad! Of course I eventually mastered it and in doing so became the designated family wrapper. I still love wrapping gifts!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    OMG, I remember those pop-its, Dana. They were good for helping people with stress to calm down by popping the beads together and apart, but not very pretty. When my kids were little, they made gigantic versions of them, but it took Herculean strength to connect them. They pulled them apart and then insisted I put them back together. Not much fun.

  6. I laughed out loud at the end of your story- I always knew if I got a job in a bookstore all would be lost. Loved hearing about first jobs! Thanks for sharing.

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