Karen Sivalon works in a rather surreal setting. At the top of the second-floor escalator of Dillard's department store at the Boise Towne Square mall, make a sharp right and look for her near the candy cane archway and towering shelves of chocolates and Christmas candies. That's where she and her customer service colleagues are elbow-deep in paper and ribbons, turning drab boxes into gorgeously wrapped mysteries.
Sivalon is one of the busiest employees at Dillard's each Christmas shopping season, putting in extra hours on weekends and for select shoppers' special occasions. She's also, quite possibly, the jolliest of customer service associates. She readily laughed or giggled through much of our interview.
How long have you worked in retail?
Actually, this was my first retail job. My degree is in eduction and I wanted to be a teacher, but I have two children and this job fit perfectly into my personal schedule. I started here in 2000, out on the sales floor in the Ready to Wear department--that's women's apparel. I worked there for about six months before being transferred to customer service.
When you're not wrapping gifts, what are your other responsibilities?
We work on refunds. We help customers with their charge accounts. I'm a back-up cashier. We work the switchboard, a little bit of everything.
So when people call the main number, are they talking to you?
It's me and my colleagues. People get very excited when they learn that a live person still answers the phone here.
You do realize that there are a lot of people in your line of work that have no business being in customer service.
Right [big laugh].
So what does it take to do what you do?
A lot of patience. You have to have the right attitude, because a lot of people come up to the customer service counter and sometimes they're pretty upset about something. You just have to let them have their fun and go with it [even bigger laugh].
Do you get special training for gift wrapping?
Oh yes. Dillard's has its own way of wrapping things.
How many options are there for customers?
We have six unique Christmas wraps this year. Each one has its own special ribbons and an ornament or embellishment. And of course that's in addition to our baby wraps, wedding wraps, birthday wraps and all the others.
Clearly, not everyone can do this.
When I get the rhythm going, I can finish a really nice gift-wrapped package in about four, maybe five minutes. Plus, keep in mind that we make all our own bows at Dillard's.
Is it common for people to bring you a lot of items that aren't boxed?
We have all the box sizes here. A lingerie size, shirt size, sweater size, hat size, china box size, a cube, a coat size and jewelry and tie sizes.
What's the toughest thing to wrap?
Luggage. We'll either find a huge box or we'll make one.
Do you ever wrap something soft or smushy, like a comforter?
No. Somehow we have to put it in a box.
Are men your biggest customers?
Certainly at Christmas, it's men and kids. It's so cute to watch, because the children's eyes light up when they get to pick out the wrapping.
Do things just get crazier the closer you get to Dec. 24?
Oh my, yes. We're wrapping quite a bit right up to the last minute on Christmas Eve. And we keep the Christmas wrapping going the week after Christmas because so many people buy gifts for the next year, and they want them wrapped now.
Did you hear there is no gift wrapping available in the common area of the mall this year?
I know. Plus, they're not doing any gift wrapping over at Macy's. We're a real novelty this year.
Are you too tired to wrap your own presents when you get home?
Oh no [another big laugh]. I still think it's pretty cool.
You seem to get quite a bit of joy out of what you do.
I just love it.