I Survived Spring Break: Tales from a Miami Beach Store Owner

miami beach store Spring BreakIt was like the calm before a Miami storm. One day I'm happily slaving away in my small souvenir store, just a few blocks off South Beach, folding the umpteenth T-shirt and putting the disorganized sunglasses back into their carousel, and the next day I'm pondering running away, moving out of Miami to some quaint, nondescript nobody-ever-goes-to town.

Why the change? Because batten down the hatches, spring break has arrived! Miami, especially South Beach, is one of those crazy spring-break places that you read about in the news and watch footage of on TV. You might be skeptical and question the validity of whether the stories are real. I'm here to tell you everything you have heard, read and not even imagined is probably all true -– and more.

I'm out of that retail business now, but for about ten years I had that little store in Miami, just off the beaten path, that catered to anybody that wanted an overpriced souvenir, cheap bikini or dark shades.

I liked Miami for the business aspect of it, but living there during spring break was challenging. I knew locals that camped inside their homes and condos, existing on "Jeopardy," "Wheel of Fortune" and corned-beef sandwiches, waiting for the storm of college students to subside. They wouldn't even venture out to their usual dinners, coffee runs or happy hours, lest they get caught at a green traffic light with nowhere to go, because a sea of college kids relentlessly swarmed in front of them. Seriously, it happens.

I had some really nice young people working at my shop. They were knowledgeable, energetic and friendly to all. But, every year spring break turned these typically sane workers into stressed-out lunatics who threatened to quit every hour, on the hour. Not that I could blame them.

During spring break my salespeople had to put up with rude and drunk shoppers and shoplifters, as well as college students trying to use dressing rooms for, shall we say, "non-traditional" purposes. Additionally, we've experienced students trying to change ticket prices on items, paying for items with bogus checks or purposefully ruining or breaking items when they thought a price too high. In one case, a spring breaker ran a black magic marker along a stack of T-shirts -- while we were watching -- in the hopes of getting a discount. Yes, we've seen it all.

Every year we had to hire extra people during spring break just for security detail –- and we had quite a small store. We had security inside and outside, and practically hanging from the rafters. During spring break, would automatically put a permanent out-of-order sign on our restroom door. We learned that one the hard way, after finding messes constantly, as well as clothes and other store items stuffed in the wastebasket and even in the toilet!

One morning, I opened my store and found a college kid sleeping on the floor. He said the back door was unlocked, and although I highly doubted that fact, I felt sorry for the guy and gave him a pass. He said he was sharing a room with eight other people and that the hotel management said that was too many in the room. They all flipped coins to see who had to leave and he lost. He said there were just no rooms to be had.

Another time a spring breaker had her luggage stolen and was left with nothing but the clothes on her back. She couldn't afford to buy new clothes and needed the little money she had for food and necessities. I took a chance and offered her about 20 hours of work in exchange for let her pick out some shorts, T-shirts, and a bathing suit as well as some other necessities, on a store credit. After she went home she sent me a thank-you card.

Yes, all hell does break loose on spring break in Miami, but college kids have a way of keeping us middle-agers on our toes. While I don't yearn for my old college days or my old store, I do often wonder if I could still pull an all-nighter or sleep on any available flat surface? The answer is no.

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