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Comic Strip / Retail

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"Yeah, I couldn't possibly be right about anything. I'm wearing a nametag."
Marla Masters

Retail is a comic strip created by Norm Feuti (also the creator of Gil) that ran from 2006 to 2020. Set in a fictional store called Grumbel's, it's a satire of the world of minimum-wage department store jobs.

The strip centers around an assistant manager (later promoted to store manager) named Marla Masters. While she's a good boss, she can't stand the bureaucratic nonsense set by the corporate offices, the intolerant and abusive customers, the ditzy and spaced-out employees, and the stigmas associated with retail workers. Other than that, she likes her job.

Marla is most often seen working alongside Cooper, a stock boy with a sarcastic wit, geeky tastes and a dim outlook about his job; Val, an aspiring writer and encouraging friend of Marla's who wants her to move onto bigger and better things; and Stuart, the store manager (later District Manager) who sucks up to his superiors, follows every rule to the letter, and is a generally ineffectual boss.


Feuti has written a book based around Retail, called Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook. "This Is So Bogus My Head Hurts", a collection of the strip's first year, is available here.

On January 19, 2020, Norm Feuti announced that he was ending the strip. The final comic ran on February 23, 2020.

Provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: A Halloween storyline in 2008 took a break from the strip proper to feature a horror story written by Val. The story abruptly ended a few days in without resolution and the comic returned to its normal hijinks without comment until a 2010 strip had Val getting ribbed for the quality of the story.
  • Accidental Misnaming: One of the running gags was that the district manager Jerry could never remember Marla's name, often calling her "Darla." Eventually it was revealed that he only pretended to not know her name. After that he started calling her by her real name. This also happens with Crystal and Stuart, with Stuart calling her "Cheryl." Even when she calls him up and says her name, Stuart has no idea who it is until she says "Cheryl." It is unclear if Stuart is like Jerry with him pretending to not know her name.
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  • Alliterative Name: Marla Masters, Cooper Costello, Stuart Suchet
  • Art Evolution: The strip's art was more cartoonish in the early years, which got toned down as time went by. Stuart in particular had a longer head, which got more rounded in later years; Cooper's nickname for him, "Zucchini Head," makes much more sense when you look at the early strips.
  • Asbestos-Free Cereal: When a customer asked Alan why a pair of shoes was so expensive, he said that it is because they're handmade by cheap labor in sweatshops using only the finest plastics and rubber. When the customer asked for a "real reason", he sighed and said is because they have "vortex channel tube" technology.
  • Author Filibuster: The "Cooper gets an appendectomy, then gets hit with the bill" arc (August-September 2008) is transparently Feuti's two cents on the issue of healthcare (a hot topic back then, considering that a certain presidential candidate was promising to do something about it...).
  • Babies Ever After: Marla gives birth to daughter Fiona in the strips from Easter weekend of 2012.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Poor Marla. Anyone who has to deal with Stuart all day has to be beleaguered.
  • Benevolent Boss:
    • Marla is shown as a very competent, level-headed manager who is consistently frustrated by her higher-ups.
    • In a way, Cooper and Lunker's boss at the convenience store, even saying that the two are the best employees the store ever had (for not stealing anything). But that may be because of his low standards.
    • Cooper himself temporarily became one of these when he was put in charge of the closing South Heights store.
  • Blackmail:
    • Cooper once blackmailed Stuart into giving him extra hours on the job after discovering that he will lose his job if the inventory goes poorly. He also blackmailed Stuart on another occasion to protect Marla's job.
    • Cooper himself becomes a victim of blackmail when Keith Sanzen finds out about his secret lodge on the roof. He threatened to tell Stuart unless Cooper allowed Keith to use the lodge to hold his poetry corner.
    • Courtney begins blackmailing Marla on overhearing that she's planning to open her own store. Her demands are to have all Friday nights and Saturday mornings off, a demand which Marla points out to Val is worth accepting since Courtney always calls in sick for those shifts anyway. Marla eventually ends up firing Courtney. Last time we saw her, she was working at a coffee place in the mall.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Grumbel's is not a fun place to work with all their dumb rules and worse higher-ups, and yet from we have seen, it is a better place to be. Delman's is run by Mina in a cut-throat manner, which apparently is not a problem for corporate. Abersnobby and Finch is also said to have rules even more ridiculous than Grumbel's.
  • Bland-Name Product:
    • The store name is a play on the now-defunct Gimbels department store chain. The font used for the logo is similar as well.
    • The new girl Amber comes from Abersnobby and Finch, and frequently mentions how shallow and demeaning the place is.
    • One strip mentions a supermarket with even worse employee care called Big W Mart.
  • Bookends: The 'Brice works at Delman's' storyline starts with Mina's assistant manager giving his two weeks notice, changing it to two days notice after she insults him. It ends with Brice giving her two seconds notice after she tells him he better not give her two weeks notice after finding out he got an offer for his own store.
  • Bothering by the Book: Occasionally done by Cooper. One early strip showed Cooper grilling up food outside the mall, and when Stuart objects he points out that the rule book doesn't forbid it. Another strip had Josh writing up Cooper for a rule violation, only for Cooper to point out that he clocked out, and that the rule book forbids management from writing up any employees who's not on the clock.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • The health care subplot ended with Cooper conveniently winning the $20,000 he needed to pay off his hospital bill, along with a note that he had a benevolent cartoonist that looked out for him.
    • Cooper leaves Donnie in charge of the stockroom even though Lunker has seniority. Donnie asks why Lunker declined the opportunity:
      Lunker: Lunker not want to be focus of next week storyline.
      Donnie: Oh... Wait, what?
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • The first time Jerry left the strip, he came back about a year later. However, he left again when he retired from his job, and this time it stuck, as he hasn't appeared since 2012.
    • Mina, Marla's rival from Delman's, effectively disappeared for few years until she reappeared in 2017, when she hired Marla's then-assistant, Brice.
    • Keith returned as an inventory supervisor in 2014, six years after his last appearance. This was lampshaded when he revealed that his ban from the store was only for five years.
      • Keith returned again in 2017. During that three years he became a Senior Vice-President of EGRGIS, the inventory service often featured in the strip.
    • Darnell, who Cooper worked with at the closing South Heights store in 2018, reappeared (albeit as an off-panel voice through the phone) right before the strip ended in 2020, when he set up a job interview with Cooper at a shipping company he is now working at.
  • Butt-Monkey: Cooper is typically on the receiving end of most of management's dumb ideas.
  • Call-Back: The Goofy Grumbel costume, which Cooper wore in a 2006 strip, reappeared 10 years later when they received a new shipment. In both strips, Cooper volunteered to wear it because it means he doesn't have to deal with customers all day.
  • Cassandra Truth: Josh becomes this in the storyline where he overhears Val and Marla discussing Val's plans to go to Disney World with Cooper. Because their relationship is against Grumbel's policy, he goes over Marla's head to report them all to Stuart, but Amber catches wind of it and alerts Cooper in time. Cooper then pulls off a clever stunt to make it look like Josh is Crying Wolf (see Token Shipping, below).
  • Catapult Nightmare: Happened to Cooper a few times (pretty much a Running Gag, really). Including one instance where he dreamt that Stuart wished everyone a Happy Easter, while naked inside a giant plastic Easter egg. Eeew...
  • Character Blog: The now-defunct Cooper's Retail Blog, which sadly was discontinued due to time constraints — and according to Feuti, he lost the original material.
  • Character Filibuster: Marla rants about the insanity of retail life a lot. She even has a long manifesto on the subject.
  • Cheated Angle:
  • Christmas Creep: This being a comic about retail, there are a lot of examples:
    • A strip in October 2015 featured Cooper looking at a Halloween display on one side of the store and a Christmas display on the other, and commenting that Tim Burton was ahead of his time. (As mentioned below, it was this sort of thing that actually gave him the idea.)
    • Christmas stuff being put out in September is a recurring plot. Every year the customers are surprised by that.
    • One year Cooper and Donnie find Christmas ornaments in their May. Donnie begs for it to be a mistake.
    • Cooper exploits this trope once by using leftover Christmas wreaths to pretend to build a display in the middle of the summer just to see customers' heads explode.
    • Not only does Stuart actively encourage this trope, he tried to make Easter a second Christmas shopping season since Christmas is when Grumbel's is at its most profitable. He's also given out Christmas flyers and candy canes on Halloween (prompting the kids to egg his house) and openly disdains holidays that aren't retailer-friendly.
      "What good is a holiday if you can't make any serious money from it?"
    • Helping Stuart (and not helping the others) is that corporate encourages pushing the Christmas Creep. The managers meeting that happens in June always discusses Christmas, they've encouraged store managers to play Christmas music starting October 1 (which Stuart made mandatory in his district) and sent a sign reminding people that it's time to think about Christmas in August (which promptly got torn up by customers). Marla, for her part, resists pushing the Christmas Creep as much as she can, even saying one year she flat out refuses to play Christmas music in October unless corporate mandates it. (Cooper quips that that mandate probably isn't too far off.)
    • While Christmas is the most obvious, it's not like the other holidays are exempt. One year on February 9 a Valentine's display changed over to an Easter display in the amount of time it took a customer to look at her phone. Another year Donnie noted that the Easter stuff had been out since the day after Christmas.
    • Cooper claims that the Christmas Creep occurred because a boy wished to a genie that Christmas be four months long (because his father was the CEO of a department store chain) and then threw the lamp in a volcano so no one could undo it.
    • It should be noted that all of this is to the detriment of Thanksgiving, which may as well not exist to Grumbel's management. (Stuart once even said the concept of Thanksgiving was obsolete and these days Thanksgiving only served to kick off Christmas season.) One year, when a customer asked if Grumbel's had anything for Thanksgiving, Val's only answer was 'a six hour shift'. Another year they finally let one Thanksgiving decoration be sold in their stores...and that was only because the turkey was wearing a Santa suit.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The strip's first year had a character named Victor, an elderly man who took a job at Grumbel's. He only made a few appearances before he disappeared without explanation.
    • "Crazy Hat Lady", a semi-recurring customer who appeared on and off during the strip's early years. There's a four-year gap between her last two appearances (2011 and 2015).
    • "Creepy Guy" also disappeared after a few years. Lampshaded by Val in a 2015 strip.
    • Lana, a Christmas help who got promoted to regular employment, hasn't appeared since June 2013.
    • Marla's mom hasn't appeared in years.
  • Comically Small Bribe: Subverted in one strip where it looked like a customer was bribing Donnie with a penny to let him enter the closed store while he was on door duty, only to show that it was so he can throw it at his eye, distracting him long enough to sneak inside.
  • Conservation of Competence: The low-level employees are almost all smart. The managers and corporate suits are almost all idiots. Marla, once she becomes store manager, averts the trope, as did the short-lived district manager Connie.
  • Cool Big Sis: Cooper regards Marla as one of these, in his own words when speaking to Scott.
  • Crossing the Burnt Bridge: Brice was happy to quit Grumbel's and accept a job under Mina at Delman's until he noticed the toxic and cut-throat enviroment there. When he encountered Marla later, the first thing he asked is if she already hired a new assistant. Played a bit further later since the normal pleading was done without the burning party, Marla was trying to convince Stuart to give Brice a second chance.
  • Curse Cut Short: When Marla found out that Josh lied about getting a job offer from another store in order to get himself a raise, she only managed to say "that son of a—" before another character interrupted her.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Stuart, believe it or not, when he saw Marla's baby.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: How Lana describes working for Grumbel's:
    Working here has truly invigorated my desire to achieve my goals.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Marla, Cooper, and Val.
  • Delegation Relay: "Did they want a manager, or the manager?"
  • Deus ex Machina: Lampshaded by the last strip of the "Cooper gets an appendectomy" arc. "Cooper has a benevolent cartoonist who can write a convenient solution for his health care woes."
  • Didn't Think This Through: When Marla went on vacation, Val and Cooper pushed Josh to help out Stuart in order to prevent him from getting Val to do it. It wasn't until Marla came back that they realized this would just make Stuart consider making Josh his new assistant manager.
  • The Ditz: Courtney, who is meant to parody all the incompetent people behind the register.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After putting up with the constant nonsense of retail work for so long, Marla is offered an office manager position, then quits on the spot with Stuart, leaving him high and dry for the store's liquidation. In the strip where Marla gets the job, she wonders why she didn't do it sooner.
    • Cooper and Val too. Not only are they Happily Married by the end, Cooper manages to find a better paying job and quits Grumbel's before it closes. Not only that, but the job pays well enough that Val can write full time, giving them both fulfillment.
  • Easily Overheard Conversation: Happens frequently. This especially played a role during a storyline where Josh found out Cooper and Val are dating, where one character overheard another so many times that Cooper lampshaded its overuse.
  • Economy Cast: Lampshaded in one strip where Marla says she has to make reviews for her 40 employees, and Val surprised that they actually have that many employees.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Cooper frequently refers to Stuart as "Zucchini Head" behind his back...and sometimes directly to him.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: After a fashion. In a 2008 strip, Stuart just can't understand why Connie (the new District Manager) would want to help them with inventory pre-counts.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Retail is a strip about... retail.
  • Exact Words: After Cooper is busted for parking his electric car in the stockroom, he specifically tells Marla that she won't see it there again. Marla's response is to note that the phrasing is suspicious, but she's going to choose to ignore it.
    • Later, when Mina finds out Brice got a job offer for his own store, she says he better not give her a two weeks notice. He gives her two seconds notice.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: No matter what the workers at Grumbel's do, someone won't be happy. And rest assured, they're going to hear about it.
    • Cooper will never win the Halloween costume contest (legitimately). Furthermore, no one will ever appreciate his costumes. One year had a plot in which he dressed as a "normal" character instead of as a geek icon... everyone except him dressed as geeky characters instead. It turned out to be All Just a Dream.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Type 1, where anyone who works in retail long enough becomes jaded and cynical.
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: Attempted, but abandoned - the number in the barcode in the comic's logo was once a real number where readers could submit their retail stories, but as most Sunday papers omitted the title panel, nobody ever called the number and it was eventually disconnected.
  • Gentle Giant: Lunker, unless he's flipping out on Stuart.
    • Or when apprehending someone who pulled a knife on him.
  • Gilligan Cut: Stuart is admonishing Cooper for giving out his manager code to all cashiers in a going-out-of-business store, Cooper defends himself saying that he did it because corporate didn't update the discounts for the store, but Stuart respond that their mistake won't make them lose money unlike Cooper's, cut to Marla's store, which is still in business, giving discounts to all products.
  • Gone Horribly Right: After Brice left Grumbel's for Delman's, he hoped to be given a new position. He got one, but it was under the thumb of Mina, who openly berates her employees. Brice regrets the change on his first day.
  • Here We Go Again!: A Dollar Admiral will be moving into what was the Grumbel's space, as shown in the final strip.
  • Heroic BSoD: Marla has a moment after an encounter with a exceptionally clueless customer.
  • Hired for Their Looks: Courtney was hired solely for her looks and tends to take lots of "sick days" sometimes showing up at the mall to shop on said days looking perfectly healthy. But Stuart refuses to fire her.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • One storyline has Stuart delegating the job of doing presentation to Marla in order to get out of doing it. Marla gets even by doing the same thing and delegating Cooper to do it (complete with costumes). The plan works and Stuart vows to never let her do any presentations again.
    • Wanting to get revenge on Marla for getting him in trouble with Connie (the district manager at the time), Stuart purposely doesn't tell her that they have a new D.M., wanting to make her look bad. It only half-works; while Marla does make a bad first impression, the new D.M. ended up blaming Stuart for it, saying that he should have told her that he'd be coming.
    • When she fires Josh after learning about some shenanigans he pulled to secure a raise. He's already put in notice, but they aren't scheduled to hire a replacement for a few weeks. Stuart won't let her move up the time frame, chiding her for letting her temper get the better of her and forcing her to deal with the increased workload for the interim.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: One storyline had Marla making her assistant Crystal do all the employee evaluation because she didn't want to do it, something Stuart did to Marla when she was his assistant. Marla later acknowledged that it was hypocritical of her to do this, since she hated it when Stuart pulled this on her.
  • I Choose to Stay: Marla recommends that Crystal stay with Grumbel's through the liquidation, long enough to be able to put 'store manager' on her resume. Lunker also chooses to stay at Grumbel's to help Crystal through it.
  • Identical Stranger: Zoe, the barista, who looks exactly like Marla with blonde hair. Marla swears she doesn't see the resemblance, but at the same time is unnerved when Cooper starts dating the other woman.
  • I'm Standing Right Here:
    • One strip showed Marla, Cooper, and Val discussing trying to get rid of then-recent employee Josh, right in front of him.
    • One storyline had Marla's car breaking down when she and Stuart were on their way to a meeting, forcing Stuart to bribe Cooper so he'll pick them up. When Marla asked if he would have left her stranded if Stuart refused, Cooper said he would've just come and picked up Marla, leaving Stuart behind. Stuart protests that he can hear him, to which Cooper replies with a disinterested "So?".
    • A more benevolent example happens when Marla is training an assistant manager for a different store, which Amber gets a crush on. A customer wants a price match, and she pages for the assistant manager to arrive to the register to do it... And Marla, THE manager, standing just by, and Amber saying she did it because he might need the training.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Grumbel's tends to promote based on lack of competence; its executives are prone to make arbitrary changes for their own aggrandizement at the expense of its workers and write draconian policies that make no logical sense. Just like a REAL retail shop!. At the end, it pays for its incompetence as it goes out of business.
  • Informed Ability: Val's writing. Cooper tells her father that it's better than a lot of published stuff, but the only instance of it we've seen is the above-mentioned Halloween story, and the other characters weren't too impressed by the quality.
  • Instant Birth: Just Add Water!: Averted: when Marla's water breaks she just calmly says that she needs to call Scott to take her to the hospital and doesn't need an ambulance. Fiona is later shown already born three strips later. Lampshaded in this dialogue:
    Val: It always seems more urgent on T.V.
    Marla: That's because wetting your pants then driving calmly to the hospital doesn't make for good drama.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: One strip featured an appearance of Ed Kudlick from Dustin. Also doubles as a Take That! because it was in reference to a storyline that happened in Dustin that year.
  • Ironic Hell: Jasper Morley, in an obvious Shout-Out to Jacob Marley, is forced to walk the Earth wearing Grumbel's Policy and Procedure Manuals around his neck.
  • Irony: For years Cooper expressed a desire to be there when Grumbel's shuts down so he could bask in the schadenfreude. Now that Grumbel's is closing, Cooper won't be there because he already took another job.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Stuart's last name, Suchet, is pronounced "soo-shay".
  • Jenny's Number: In one strip, a guy asks a female cashier for her number; to which she replies, "867-5309. My name is Jenny."
  • Jerkass:
    • Several characters, most notably Stuart, Jerry, and Josh. Mina, the manager of Delman's, has also been described as "the most evil manager" by Amber, a sadly accurate statement.
    • There are also most of the obnoxious customers who complain for any reason, especially the ones who refuse to recognise stated store policies or even the physical location of it.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Stuart is a condescending and somewhat misogynistic district manager who always undermines his employees, but he was in the right when he chewed Marla out for letting her emotions get to her and firing Josh on the spot, rather than letting him work out the two weeks notice he originally gave her. As Stuart coldly tells Marla that covering the assistant's workload for the next few weeks is now her problem since it's her fault for firing him, she expresses her dismay that he's actually right.
    • A storyline from November 2016 featured Val intimidating a new employee for making her look bad to Brice, leading him to work not as hard. Brice immediately catches on and confronts Val, pointing out that what she did just made her look worse. This was reinforced when Marla, whom Brice often clashed with, agreed that it's unacceptable; even Brice was shocked that Marla (reluctantly) sided with him.
      Brice: Wait...are you actually saying I'm right?
      Marla: I'm saying you're not wrong. It's not quite the same thing.
    • A 2017 storyline has Keith getting revenge on Cooper for having him arrested years ago by making sure he keeps his job at Grumbel's, pointing out that even though he openly hates working there, he has very little ambition to find a new opportunity.
      Keith: That's the beauty of it, Cooper. I'm not keeping you at Grumbel's. You're doing that to yourself. I've simply been keeping things comfortable enough to prevent you from quitting or getting fired from a job you despise. What better revenge than to let you suffer daily from your own fear of change?
    • At least in the early years, Stuart's attitude towards Cooper was justified when you consider that he goofed around a lot, not to mention all the pranks he pulled at every given opportunity (while Stuart is Cooper's favorite target, in the early years he had no qualms about pranking other employees as well, especially new hires). Marla even sided with Stuart on a few occasions.
  • Karma Houdini: This can apply to multiple characters, but special mention goes to Jerry, who never did get what he deserved for making Marla's life hell. Even Stuart gets occasional comeuppances, including the end when apparently everyone outside of Crystal (who has been advised by Marla of what salary to demand to replace her as Store Manager) and Lunker quits, leaving Stuart high and dry largely without experienced staff to handle the liquidation.
    • Discussed when Marla fired Josh. While Val thinks Josh will eventually get what's coming for him, Marla believes that, in the long run, he won't suffer any long-lasting consequences for all the jerkass behavior she had to endure.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In a storyline where Marla takes a vacation, Josh takes over for her and Stuart abuses his Yes-Man mentality to the point of even having him wash his hubcaps. When Marla comes back, Stuart lords it over her that he intends to fire her and replace her with Josh... only to learn that Josh can't work management hours, and thus Stuart is forced to wash Marla's hubcaps to keep her from quitting.
  • Liar Revealed: Josh turned out to be one after Marla found out that he fabricated the story about the competing store offering him a job with bigger salary.
  • Loophole Abuse: Stuart once ordered Marla to hang up a poster she found condescending in the break room, so she hanging them up behind the vending machine. Stuart didn't specify where in the break room.
    • Generally speaking, if the employees can find a loophole in order to get out of idiotic corporate regulations, they will use it. Cooper once said that he skims through the employee handbook just for this purpose.
    • Customers are shown using this as well, most notably the "Coupon Abuser".
  • Morning Sickness: Marla is shown to be suffering from extremely bad sickness all day long during the first several weeks of her pregnancy.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Val's dream is to get out of retail and write full-time. Cooper's new job, which pays twice what Grumbel's did, will finally allow her to do that.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: After a fashion. Marla, whose pregnancy was revealed in August 2011, doesn't want it made public until she passes the 12-week mark; only she, Scott, and Val know about it. This leads to Stuart looking even more unreasonable than usual when she calls in sick, because he doesn't know what's causing it and thinks she's looking for another job. He's actually rather considerate once he knows the truth.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Every time something won't scan a customer will say something along the lines of "it must be free then". Truth in Television because cashiers often do hear that 'joke'.
  • Never My Fault: Probably Stuart's single most annoying trait is his pathological inability to take responsibility for anything bad, instead blaming Marla. This habit gets worse when he's promoted to DM. And of course he gets away with it, because he's always one step higher than Marla on the Grumbel's food chain.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Anybody who works on the floor at Grumbel's is typically nice to other retail workers.
    • This could also, arguably, be the point of the whole comic.
  • No Ending: While the fates of Marla, Cooper, and Val are explored (Marla and Cooper got new jobs, Val quits to become a full-time writer), the fates of the rest of the cast aren't explored other than that most of them opted to resign rather than stay behind for liquidation. The final strip shows a nameless mall worker taking down the Grumbel's sign while the space advertises that a Dollar Admiral store will be moving in soon, thus ending things on a sour but realistic note.
  • No Indoor Voice: Many of the customers communicate by shouting.
  • Now You Tell Me: In this strip Donnie is exhausted and sits down in a box that is empty, so it breaks and he falls to the floor, just at that moment Cooper warns him that it's empty.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Stuart and Jerry, the district manager, always implement and follow corporate policy, no matter how ridiculous or obstructive, without question.
  • Old Friend: Marla's current assistant manager, Crystal, was friends with Lunker when they were kids.
  • One Steve Limit: defying? One arc had Josh overhearing Marla and Val talking about the latter taking vacations with Cooper. Josh snitched to Stuart but the guys had time to prepare and asked an outside guy to be "Val's boyfriend" called "Rick Cooper", to make it seem like a misunderstanding.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Lunker's real name, Mel, is only mentioned a few times.
    • A number of recurring customers are referred to only by nicknames coined by the staff based on their obnoxious habits, e.g. Creepy Guy.
  • Only Sane Man: Marla, but also any worker who isn't in management.
  • Only Six Faces: The main characters have distinct designs, but other people (customers, etc.) look very much alike. Jerry, for example, looks like Cooper if he was older.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Marla becomes quite concerned when she hasn't received a call from the micromanaging Stuart in weeks, knowing it's out of character for him. She worries that he hasn't called because it doesn't matter if he does—namely, because Grumbel's is going out of business. Her fear only gets worse when he does call: when she tells him they probably won't make their sales goal he brushes it off instead of berating her like usual.
  • Out Giving Birth, Back in Two Minutes: Marla's water breaks in the 4/5/2012 strip. She's holding her daughter in the 4/9/2012 strip.
  • Out of Focus: Alan, who runs the shoe department, used to appear more often in the first few years of the strip. Nowadays he appears about once a year, if he's lucky. Lampshaded by Cooper in one strip.
    • Warren, the mall security who's friends with Cooper, made frequent appearances in the early years of the strip, but his appearances has become more and more sporadic as of late. This was eventually explained in early 2019, when it was revealed that Warren became a chief security officer at the mall.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Stuart, who insists on following every corporate rule to the letter, even if the rules are impossible or self-contradicting.
  • Poisonous Friend: Cooper is something of a mild version of this for Marla. He consistently keeps an ear out for any plotting by upper management which could have a detrimental effect on her career. He hasn't actually poisoned anyone over it, but hell will freeze over before he lets anything happen to her job.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: In a November 2013 storyline, Grumbel's flyers are listing the Christmas trees as "holiday trees". Marla and the staff immediately panic because they know the reactions they are going to get. Turns out that this wasn't even done deliberately; it was a proofreading error.
    • They just can't win with holiday greetings either. If they say 'Merry Christmas' someone gets offended. If they say 'Happy Holidays' someone gets offended. If they don't say anything at all someone gets offended. Played for Laughs in one strip where Stuart wishes someone a Merry Christmas, and then changes it to Happy Holidays. He's grumbling in his head about how politically correct society is today, while the customer is baffled he said Merry Christmas because it's the second day of October.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: In one strip Crystal asks what she must tell any applicant if they ask how much they pay, Marla out of nowhere yells "MINIMUM WAGE! HIYAA! WHIP-PISH!". Marla then tries to explain that it is a song of They Might Be Giants, but Crystal only asks who might be giants.
  • Predatory Business: The employees are affected by their retail jobs even when they're not on the clock. The strips during one week in April 2013 illustrated different behaviors they exhibit outside of work which indicate that they're in retail.
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • In late 2013 Josh began to suspect that he was going to be fired because of how Marla was treating him even more harshly, and Stuart coldly dismissing him when he called (something he's never done to Josh before). Of course, as readers already knew, Marla was planning to fire him and was only buying time because it was Christmas season.
    • Marla spent most of January 2020 suspecting that the future of Grumbel's is in doubt due to Stuart not checking in for weeks, and when he finally did he was indifferent to Marla not meeting her sales goals. Marla would later discover she was right to worry: Grumbel's is filing for bankruptcy, and Stuart knew all this time it was coming without telling any of his store managers.
  • Punny Name:
    • One strip had Cooper wearing a fake name-tag that read "Stu Artizajoke" (Stuart is a joke). When Stuart confronted him about it, Cooper said it sounded Slavic.
    • Another strip featured a poorly-disguised Mina being interviewed for a job by Marla, who went by "Wendy U. Tinkle" (when do you tinkle). Marla didn't buy it.
  • Put on a Bus: Several early characters, such as Jerry (who left twice), Courtney, Keith Sanzen, and Josh, all left Grumbel's for various reasons and haven't appeared in years. Can be considered Truth in Television, since there's usually a high turnover rate in retail jobs.
    • Arthur, who replaced Josh in 2014, left the strip two years later when he got a new job.
    • Gus, who was Cooper and Lunker's manager at the Gas-We-Got convenience store, last appeared in 2012. As both quit working at the store (Lunker quit a year before Cooper did), the character was no longer needed.
    • Brice occasionally appeared after he left Grumbel's (a whole storyline was dedicated to him realizing how much worse he has it under Mina), but after he ate humble pie and then took a job as a Grumbel's manager in New Hampshire, he officially joined the bus riders.
    • In Keith's case, the bus came back several times.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: Josh initially got away with lying about a job offer to secure a raise, but his days were numbered when Marla found out and told Stuart, who was initially his biggest supporter. With Marla making plans to fire him, and Stuart no longer protecting him, he was forced to quickly find a new job and leave while he was still ahead.
  • Rank Up: In spring 2012, Stuart was offered a promotion to district manager, and urged corporate to promote Marla to store manager (so he wouldn't appear as misogynistic as Jerry). He even got them to time the promotion to coincide with her return from maternity leave. To Stuart's horror, Marla immediately promoted Cooper to stockroom supervisor.
    • Happened to Keith Sanzen, albeit off-panel. In 2014, he was a supervisor for EGRGIS. When he reappeared three years later, he somehow got promoted to Senior Vice-President.
    • In May 2019, it was revealed that Warren got promoted to Chief Security Officer at the mall, explaining why he is rarely seen in the strip these days.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • To some extent; the comic is based on Feuti's own real experiences in the retail world.
    • As the strip came to an end, the prevalent Retail Apocalypse of major retail chains tanking created the logical ending for the strip with Grumbel's going out of business as well.
    • The bonus strip set at Dollar Admiral incorporates many of the changes seen in retail establishments due to the COVID-19 pandemic (namely, masks and barriers between cashiers and customers).
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Marla; Connie, for her short stint as district manager
  • Right Behind Me: In one strip Marla says to Stuart that their district manager is a "mean-spirited jerk". Guess who was behind her.
  • Running Gag: "It must be free" and the ongoing hatred of that joke.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Happens in the end of the strip's run. After Grumbel's announced they are going bankrupt, Marla, Cooper, Val, and most of the staff opted to get new jobs and leave without staying behind for liquidation. Only Crystal and Lunker stayed behind and Crystal had been advised by Marla of what demands she should make of Stuart in order to replace her.
  • Secret Keeper: Pretty much everyone at the Grumbel's store knows about Val and Cooper's relationship, and go to great lengths to make sure Stuart (who wouldn't hesitate to fire Cooper for violating the 'no workplace relationships' rule) never finds out. In the end, while Stuart does eventually find out Cooper got married, he never finds out it was to Val.
  • Secret Relationship: Val and Cooper's has to be one of these, at least to the higher-ups, because if Stuart ever found out he wouldn't hesitate to fire Cooper over it.
  • Secret Santa: Early in the strip had Marla organizing a Secret Santa with the employees. She ends up getting Stuart's name, much to her dismay.
    • The following year had Cooper rigging it so that everyone pulled out his name. Needless to say, they were all not happy about it.
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: An accidental example in one strip where a customer called Marla to complain about long checkout lines.
  • Shout-Out: Near the end of the strip, as the employees who are leaving are wondering what will become of those who stay for the liquidation, Donnie guesses that Lunker will get to "Sail away on the last ship with Frodo."
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Very, very deep on the cynicism side. Working in retail in any capacity is shown to be a soul-crushing experience. The customers are ignorant at best, and most are openly hostile. Anyone at the level of district manager and up is even worse, acting willfully ignorant about the struggles of their employees and expecting them to follow mutually-exclusive orders without question. Any sort of optimism about retail or an upcoming event is crushed pretty fast, and happiness can only be found in the strip when people get out of retail altogether. And right at the end of the strip, after Grumbel's goes bankrupt, the store is quietly replaced with something else, and all of the struggles and hardships of the main characters have ultimately been All for Nothing.
  • Snipe Hunt: One of the pranks Cooper likes to play on the new employees is to have them find a "wall stretcher". One year he's stunned when one of the newbies doesn't move an inch, saying she 'wasn't born yesterday'. Cooper notes she'll go far.
    • Cooper ended up being on the receiving end of this when he briefly worked in the shoe department. During his training the shoe manager was telling him about the Brannock Device, but Cooper called him out, believing that it's one of the snipe hunts. As it turned out, the Brannock Device is a real thing (it measures people's feet). Cooper is so embarrassed that he doesn't think to question it when the manager then instructs him to go fetch the "shoelace repair kit" ...
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: Grumbel's appears to give out these kinds of jobs exclusively, though it's not really the fault of the store manager Marla so much as the very idea is toxic. Grumbel's competitor Delman's is even more extreme, with a Bad Boss at every corner and workers who openly hate their jobs rather than simply snarking.
  • Spiritual Precursor: The British TV series, Are You Being Served?, is in many ways the 1970s British precursor to this strip and the contrast of retail styles from the 1970s and now is quite striking. This similarity has been acknowledged by one or two Shout Outs to Are You Being Served?, like Stuart spending his vacation at a "Power Management Retreat" run by a Mr. Rumbold.
  • Status Quo Is God: Grumbel's employees occasionally come up with great ideas to make the store run better... only to have them shot down by the management. Also, if any higher-ups turn out to be nice people, they typically don't last long; the old Jerkass managers come back all too quickly. Any rule changes management does implement end up reverted back to what it was before pretty quickly because customers complain.
  • Straw Misogynist: As the strips went by the district manager Jerry displayed this trope more and more, especially evident in how he treats Marla. Became even more magnified when he told Stuart that if the inventory count went poorly, he'd be forced to replace him with Marla because, as a woman, they can get away with paying her less.
  • Take That, Critics!: While Retail was never actually a target of The Comics Curmudgeon, that didn't stop Feuti from devoting a Sunday strip to Cooper's reaction to "".
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: A recurring theme in the comic whenever Marla need to hire someone at the store, usually Christmas help.
  • Time Skip: A small one. The final strip skips over the liquidation entirely and instead shows Grumbel's post-closure, being prepared for a new store to move in.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Cooper finally wins the Halloween costume contest after several years. Although it turned out somebody else won, but Marla bribed him into letting her give the prize to Cooper.
  • Token Shipping: Averted with Val and Cooper, but played with in a sequence where Cooper is at risk of getting fired by Stuart because of a "no workplace romance" policy. Cooper solves this by introducing Stuart to Val's fake boyfriend, a black guy named Cooper.
  • Trivially Obvious: Happened during some interviews. When Marla asked one applicant why she wants to work in Grumbel's, she says she loves how Grumbel's sells things. And another interviewee that Marla asks to name one good thing about working at Burger Dude, says that they pay him money to work there.
  • Truth in Television: Series creator Norm Feuti worked in retail for fifteen years. Many of the things that happen to the employees at Grumbel's have actually happened to him. And if you start working in retail, they'll happen to you as well.
  • Tuckerization: Keith Sanzen was named after a real person, a fan of the strip who won a contest on Cooper's blog.
    • One 2008 strip featured an appearance of a character named Charles Brubaker, who is a real person. Nowadays he's a cartoonist on his own right with a comic of his own.
  • Ultimate Job Security: Cooper seems to have this, despite being so being so openly insubordinate to the management and all his other antics, on account of the fact that he runs stock and builds displays better than anyone. Somewhat overlaps with Bunny-Ears Lawyer.
    • The one time Stuart actually tried to fire Cooper, Lunker practically threatened him. Stuart was visibly shaken.
    • For a long time, Courtney. She was rude to customers, incompetent, and always did her job improperly. This trope was eventually subverted when Marla fired her after getting promoted to store manager.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Cooper's massive crush on Val, which even had him end another relationship in order to pursue her. He finally worked up the nerve to ask her out for Valentine's Day 2011, and the two eloped in January 2019.
  • Vandalism Backfire: An early Halloween arc ended with Cooper saying he pranked Stuart by covering his car with silly strings, only to be told by Val that Stuart left hours ago (it was never revealed whose car Cooper vandalized).
  • Villain Ball: Averted by Keith when Cooper confronted him over the inventory manipulation scheme.
    Keith: Is this the part where I'm supposed to reveal my plan to you in detail?
    Cooper: (disappointed) I was hoping.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: Stuart, Josh, and Brice all believed in this. In the case of Josh and Brice (and eventually Stuart in the final strip), this would bite them in the ass.
  • Visual Pun: In one strip Stuart says that Cooper didn't take his self-evaluation seriously, because he painted a flattering picture of himself. Then we see that the review included a picture of himself with muscles carrying a box.
  • Wedding Episode: Scott and Marla had theirs in June 2011, followed by a honeymoon in Bermuda.
  • What Are Records?: Subverted in one strip, where a customer asks a worker if there's a music store, with the worker responding there's a store that sells vinyl records nearby. The customer then asks if they sell CDs, with the worker asking why they would sell an outdated media format like that. note 
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The exact location of Grumbel's is never given, but one strip describes a "three-hour drive to New Hampshire," suggesting it's somewhere on the east coast.
    • Based on other strips, evidence points to Massachusetts, which is where the cartoonist lives. Also, the district manager Jerry was mentioned to be in charge of the New England district. (Of course, a later strip says that Grumbel's added Georgia to the New England district...)
    • Massachusetts is likely, based on the mall name, or possibly Rhode Island. Also, an early strip indicates that they're close to Boston (the fifth panel is strongly suggestive of a view up the Charles from Boston Harbor).note  On the other hand, another strip mentions "D.C.Y.F.", standing for "Department of Children, Youth, and Families", which is what Rhode Island calls the department its New England neighbors all just call the "D.C.F." (same, but without "Youth").
    • The F.A.Q. confirmed it was in New England, but didn't go into more detail than that.
    • One strip also has Marla translating old New England slang for another employee.

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