When you don’t have a real reason, just play the safety card

Last week my daughter and her friend met for lunch and then went to do some shopping at our local Goodwill store.   They have been regular and loyal customers of this store since it opened well over a year ago, often going in after their dance class, which takes place just up the block.   I am rarely in the store with them.

Imagine my surprise, then, to receive a phone call from my daughter at about 2:30 in the afternoon last Wednesday (a phone call!  Usually she just texts) relating that she and her friend were told that they have to be 18 years old to shop in Goodwill without a parent.

Umm, come again?

Apparently the girls were at the checkout, money in hand, when the store manager asked how old they were.   When they said 14, she told them they are not allowed to be in the store without a parent, would not let them complete the purchase and told them to leave.

I told my daughter to stay where she was – I would be right there.   But first I went on to the Goodwill corporate website to see if in fact there is anything in writing about needing to be 18 years old to shop on your own at Goodwill.   Unsurprisingly there was nothing; there was, however, a lot of information about how to apply for a job at Goodwill if you are 16 years or older.


About 20 minutes later we walked back in the store and I asked the girls who they spoke to.  They didn’t see her, so I approached one of the employees and asked if she was the manager.  She said she was “a” manager, so I told her what had happened.  She got a confused look on her face and said, “I’ve never heard that before.  I really apologize. Please tell them they can come in and shop here any time.”   She asked the girls who they’d spoken to and they tried to describe her.   Then they again picked up the items they had tried to purchase earlier and we headed to the checkout.

While paying my daughter said, “There she is,” as a woman came down the stairs from the upper floor.   The woman I’d spoken to looked up and said, “Oh, that’s my manager.”    As she approached the counter, the store manager saw me and the girls and said “Oh I’m so glad they brought you in. I explained to them you have to be 18 to shop here alone.”

From that point on, our conversation went something like this:

Me:  ”Where exactly does it say that you have to be 18 to shop solo at Goodwill?  I checked the corporate site and couldn’t find anything.”

Her:  ”Well you know sometimes kids comes in and they’ve taken money from their parents without asking and they don’t really have permission to be shopping.”

Me:  ”That’s a problem between the parent and child.  It’s not your problem.”

Her:  ”Well but that’s why we have the rule.”

Me:  ”Really?  I find that a little hard to believe, since Goodwill hires kids at the age of 16.   It would be weird if they hired kids as employees who couldn’t shop in the store.”

Her:  ”Well, but they (pointing to the girls) aren’t even 16.”

Me:  ”That’s beside the point.  The point is that I don’t think there is a rule about needing to be 18 to shop at Goodwill.”

Here she paused and looked uncomfortable.

Her:  ”But it’s a school day.”

Me:  ”Well they are homeschooled, but in any case, so what?  It’s not your job to police whether or not kids are in school.  If some kid comes in here and buys a shirt when they are supposed to be in school, the cops aren’t going to show up and arrest you.”

Clearly she was just making things up and at this point was at something of a loss, until….

Her:  ”Well, you know, we just want to keep everyone safe.”

Ahhh, there it is.  The safety card.   The defense of all inane regulations and rules with no substance.   SAFETY.   At this point I’m sure she expected me to say, “Oh well then, if it’s to keep them safe, of course it’s ok.”

I must have looked dumbfounded, because she then turned to my daughter and said, “You know, sweetie, we just need to be sure you are safe.”

Safe from what, exactly?  Is it really so dangerous to shop at Goodwill on your own?  It’s not like they are selling drugs, guns or alcohol.   I guess those used t-shirts carry a wallop when one is an unsuspecting minor.

Before I could recover my wits she went on.

Her:  ”But now that you’ve been in and said it’s ok, they are welcome to shop here whenever they want.”

Gee, thanks for letting them continue to do what they’ve been doing since the store opened.  I feel so much better now.  Also, since one of the girls is not my daughter, I guess I could walk in with any kid who wants to shop there and tell the manager it’s ok.   Layer upon layer of ridiculousness.

Goodwill corporate will be receiving a letter from me about this, as will the Twitter-verse (well, not a letter, but a strongly worded 140 character rebuke).   Later I told Ben the story and when I said, “I mean, what do they need to be kept safe from at Goodwill?!”  he responded, “Mama, don’t you know about the invisible flying Goodwill dragon that eats kids shopping there without their parents?”

Hey, it’s as good an answer as any!

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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