Arts & EntertainmentBooks

Return to the Big Fancy

by Freeman Hall
Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer        

The holidays are coming. That means you’ll need a little extra. Extra time to go gift-shopping, for sure, and extra closet space in which to hide packages. More importantly, you’ll need extra money for all that buying, which means you’re looking for an extra job.

There are a lot of openings at the mall, but be careful what you ask for. According to Freeman Hall in his new book Return to the Big Fancy, that part-time gig you’ll grab might just be extra irritation.

Freeman Hall figured he’d done his time at the Big Fancy, an upscale department store chain with a Burbank location. Hall worked the “Handbag Jungle,” where he dealt with nasty “custys,” greedy co-workers, and a store manager he called Suzy Satan. He put up with them all while bringing home an insultingly small paycheck, so when he got the chance he escaped to pursue his dream of being a screenwriter.

But screenwriting didn’t pay the bills. Working at the Big Fancy did. Shortly after leaving, it was back to Retail Hell for Hall.

The new department manager of Handbag (never “purse”) Jungle was a wonderful woman Hall calls Maude, and, since she knew about his past at the Big Fancy, she was happy to hire him. As a former Handbag manager, Hall brought experience to the Jungle. He also brought back his best customers.

As for Hall, everything was familiar, and depressing from the start.

Forbidden to use an elevator or mall entrance, employees were forced to climb several flights of stairs to get to work. Every day began with ear-splitting announcements and admonishments over the PA system from Suzy Satan to rally (or annoy) the troops. Since the Big Fancy paid its sales associates in commissions, “sharking” (stealing customers) was common and destroyed any sense of teamwork. Rules were loose (unless you broke them) and commissions could be retroactively withdrawn, even years later. The pressure on managers and associates was intense. Adding to it was that customers were always right—even when they weren’t—and Discount Rats always got their way.

It was frustrating. It was irritating. And it might’ve meant a completely horrible year for Hall, if it wasn’t for the Big Fancy Christmas Miracle…

So you plan on picking up some hours at the mall this fall. You might want to pick up Return to the Big Fancy first, while there’s still time to run.

Author Freeman Hall is both profound and profane in this book (although not as much of the latter as he was in his first book). His observations and his propensity for nickname-giving are both hilarious, but such snarkiness isn’t all you’ll find here: there are a few genuinely wonderful moments at the BF, and Hall shares them, too.

While retail-working readers will surely identify with this book, I also think it’ll give non-retailers a taste of what’s behind the counter. Either way, if you’re getting malled this holiday season, you’ll need a laugh, and Return to the Big Fancy packs a lot of extras.

Return to the Big Fancy
by Freeman Hall
2012, Adams Media (
272 pages, $22.95/$23.99 Canada

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.


Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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