Confessions of a Professional Fake Shopper
When desperate storeowners want to convince passersby to stop in, they hire fun, happy people to pose as shoppers. They’re actually out-of-work actors, retirees, and me.
Illustrations by Jennifer Xiao
John spread his arms like a tent revivalist and addressed the 50 of us standing in the subterranean concourse of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Station. John, the hiring manager for the temp agency, was a tall man with a big belly, a nice smile, and 10 drops of sweat perpetually shining on his pate. “Good afternoon,” John said. John had zeal. “We are today creating an atmosphere of fun, and crowds, and happy shoppers.” John explained that street construction had decimated walk-up traffic to a department store down the street. A client had hired the temp agency to turn that around: People would peer through the scaffolding and jackhammer dust, see a Fun Crowd of Happy Shoppers inside the store, and thus be compelled to join in. John looked around at us in the dank gloaming of the train station and beamed.
Things had gone belly-up for me in Philadelphia. I’d moved to the city from across the country two months prior, with no plan at all. I was 25 and restless afte…
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