Article and photos by Rachel Turley
Aylin Rodriguez rushes over to the cash register with a poster in one hand and a necklace in the other. A 21-year-old petite Latina working at the Stone Flower, a mid-priced clothing and jewelry store on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Rodriguez rings up the customer’s purchase quickly, all smiles as she wraps the jewelry in a bright pink box and chats with the couple in front of her about their Thanksgiving plans.
“What about you?” the couple asks. “What are your plans for Thanksgiving?” Rodriguez just smiles and says, “You’re looking at them,” as she hands the couple their receipt and turns quickly to restocking the merchandise she just sold.
Rodriguez also plans to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
To say Rodriguez is busy would be an understatement. Today she is cashier, floor, stock, custodian and management. She is the only one in the store, a store that is always bustling given its high-traffic location. Often, she’s the only one in the store.
Her official title is “sales associate,” but her duties seem more managerial. She runs errands for the store on her own time, creates displays and store layouts, sends emails to upper management, creates schedules for the small staff and basically runs the store the six days a week she is there.
After two years at the store, Rodriguez earns the minimum wage. Today, she is even working Thanksgiving without time and a half. “I get to close the store at 6 instead of 9, so it’s okay,” she says, adding, “It’s a small business, every penny counts.”
Working on Thanksgiving is not so bad, she insists. She knew she’d have to because the store is understaffed. “People are already in a good mood because it’s a special occasion, couple that with feeling bad for me that I’m working, and I’ve yet to have a bad interaction with a customer, everyone is nice,” she says.
While Rodriguez works, everyone else in her family is off, and they gather at her aunt’s house in Bushwick. Her mother, aunt and several cousins spend the day cooking a meal that reflects their Ecuadorean heritage, with dishes such as pernil with rice with pigeon peas, paired with the traditional Thanksgiving plates like turkey and potato salad.
Other members of her extended family gather at the house to play board games or watch sports. Her family misses her but are not upset she has to work, because they have such a strong work ethic.
“My mother is a hard worker like me,” she says. “She came to America 25 years ago with nothing and raised my sisters and I by herself. Because of her I know the value of money and having a good job, I am lucky to be here.”
Rodriguez ends up closing the store at 7 p.m., not 6. “We got busy,” she says. “I never mind the extra money, I want to buy my family nice Christmas presents this year!”