Working: Jim Smith

By Patrisha McLean | Apr 10, 2009

Rockland — “My whole life for all of those years was deadlines,” said Jim Smith, about his 40 years working for a local chain of newspapers. At the opposite end of the stress spectrum is his current job as Wal-Mart greeter: “I get paid to talk to people.”

Wearing the corporate colors of blue shirt and cream-colored pants, and characteristic genuine, jolly smile, the man known to all as Big Jim spends his workday calling out variations of “hello” to 300 to 400 people a day. The first employee that Wal-Mart customers see, he also intercepts returns, zapping the various unwanted items with a hand-held device in order to register them and then directing customers to where they have to go in the store to get their refunds.

In Jim’s newspaper career, he worked his way up from running the press part time to production manager, which entailed making sure that seven Midcoast and Coastal Maine newspapers came out on time. After a triple bypass operation about five years ago, he retired. A stroke followed. “I stayed home for a year and a half,” he said. Then he started volunteering at the local food pantry, which he still does. “Then I said, ‘I got to get a job that pays a little.’”

He applied for the position of greeter at Wal-Mart for two reasons. “I’m limited to what I can do physically," he said, "[and] I knew just about everyone in this area."

“I know a lot of people, I tell ya,” he said, citing his involvement with his church and the Elks Club, plus his staff photo appearing regularly on the “brag page” of the newspapers he managed.

At Wal-Mart, “the kind of question I get asked the most is where something is," Jim said. "Where electronics are, or where they can buy underwear. The more you know, the better off you are. It helps the customer and that’s our main concern: To make the customer happy.”

By now, many customers are as familiar as old friends. “Some people come just about every day to look around and see what’s on sale,” Jim said. In the winter, regulars come “to get their exercise walking around the store,” or to hang out at the in-store Dunkin' Donuts. Jim’s greeting sometimes extends to conversation when “a woman goes shopping and her husband will stand there and talk to me.”

Fielding a steady stream of greetings such as “How ya doin’," “Well, hello there" and “Hi there," Jim said, “I try to talk to as many people as possible. About 99 percent are just as friendly as they can be. It’s very seldom that they don’t say hello back."

Jim knew a lot of people before he started working at Wal-Mart, but that was nothing compared with now.

“Last week I was in the hospital," he said. "I had a bleeding ulcer, and all the nurses and even some of the doctors said, ‘I know you from Wal-Mart.’ I was starting to feel like a celebrity.”
Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Apr 10, 2009 14:55

No wonder Jim felt like a celebrity. He's the only one I know who gets more clicks on Google than Britney Speers. If you know Jim, you know why. For those of us whom have known him for years it has been a real privilege.

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