Open letter re open doors

Dear Businesses,

I am not telepathic.

I realize that this puts me at a disadvantage to the general population, most of whom apparently are.

But because I am not, I have a hard time figuring out when you are closed, unless you tell me you are closed.

In particular, if your door is open, and/or there is no sign in your window indicating what your hours are, then you should not assume that I know you are closed.

Likewise if you answer the phone without telling me that you're closed.




Three recent examples:

  • I call the Palo Alto Medical Foundation clinic. A man answers the phone and says, simply, "Operator." I vaguely recall that the PAMF requires you to go through a switchboard to route your call, so I explain to him why I'm calling. There is a pause, and then he says, sharply: "We're closed. I'm the emergency operator." I hastily apologize and hang up, but I'm angry at him, first for not telling me from the start that they were closed, and second for getting pissy with me about my not knowing that they were closed.
  • I stop by the Smith & Hawken in Stanford Shopping Center, around 8ish on a Saturday night. Their lights are on and there are people moving around inside. I try one of the front-facing doors, but it won't easily open--but there are half a dozen doors in that wall that are blocked, so I can't tell whether that one's supposed to open. I look at all available doors for some indication of their hours, but none of them have any such indication. Finally I go to the side door, which I think is the main entrance, and that door opens easily. I take three steps inside, and a man looks up and says, "Sir, we're closed." At least he wasn't obnoxious about it. But if they were closed, why didn't they lock their door? Or at least have a sign listing their hours?
  • I stop by the Office Max near my house, at 6:10 on a Sunday evening. The front doors are wide open. As I walk toward them, a couple of customers emerge. I notice that the hours are posted in the front window, and that they say the store closes at 6--but the front doors are wide open. As I approach the front doors, an employee comes and stands in the doorway, looks at me, shakes his head, and says, "No, sorry." In a manner suggesting that I had tried to pull a fast one on him, to do something sneaky, but that he had caught me and wasn't going to let me get away with it. I say, "Huh?" He says, "Six o'clock." I almost continue to play dumb just to see if he'll ever get around to actually saying that they're closed, but I decide instead to ask if he happens to know if they carry the kind of camera battery I want. He takes my battery, goes inside (the camera stuff is just inside the door), comes out a moment later with my battery and another one, packaged, and shows me that yup, they're the same. Now I know they carry the right kind, but he's obviously not going to let me buy it. So I leave.

Really, would it kill anyone for employees to (a) close and lock the door at closing time, (b) put up a sign indicating what time the store closes, and/or (c) be friendly to people who don't telepathically guess that the store is closed?

(Okay, so in that last situation they did have the hours posted, and I did see the hours posted, and he had no obligation to let me buy something ten minutes after they closed. But he could still have said, explicitly, "Sorry, sir, but we're closed." He had no way of knowing that I had seen the hours posted, or that I knew what time it was.)

2 Responses to “Open letter re open doors”

  1. Vardibidian

    It doesn’t excuse any of the rest of it, but as long as there are people working inside, it’s a fire hazard to have all the exits locked. For a lot of stores, it’s a better idea to leave the front unlocked during the after-hours closing rather than the door to the alleyway (if there is one).

    However, there is no reason not to (a) have the hours posted clearly (2) hang a CLOSED sign on the doors that are staying unlocked for safety reasons, and (iii) be polite and cheerful to, well, to everybody. Also, they should train people to say things like “we’ve already started cashing out the registers” or “the system won’t let us ring you up after hours” or some such blatant lie. Also, as a salesman, you should pretend that you believe that the potential customer either didn’t know the store hours and that this is your fault or that the potential customer’s timepiece must be fast and that this is your fault, too. This can all be done with a minimum of sincerity, and may leave the potential customer feeling fairly good about himself, the store, and the unconsummated act of shopping.

    I wouldn’t do it myself, but there’s a chance that informing PAMF that their answering service is not very servicy would be a Good Thing to Do.


  2. Jay Hartman


    If the PAMF somehow can’t have a recorded line saying they are closed and if you have an emergency, call 911, the PAMF “emergency” operator should be answering the phone the same way that 911 operators usually do: “Hello, what’s your emergency?” I suspect the PAMF operator was really more like an “urgent care” operator, for people who need care very soon, but, for example, aren’t dying at the moment…he was likley “padding” his position a bit by saying he was the emergency operator…true emergencies (and “I am out of Ben & Jerry’s!” doesn’t count) should all be going to 911.

    Regarding to the doors and V.’s comment, he is right generally, but if certain businesses were willing to spend just a smidge more money on doors, they could get doors that can be “locked to people outside” and “unlocked to people inside,” in order to let the remaining customers exit…all you need is a something like a “crash bar.” And you don’t need the full-width ungainly “crash bar” that they have on most emergency exits…I have seen the “crash bar” technology applied tastefully to nice glass doors, for example, in the form of normal-looking handle that pushes in a little to release a catch.


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