Correction: This feature incorrectly implied that Safeway cashier Nita Robinson still works at the Temple Hills store she joined in 1982. She has been working at Safeway on 14th Street SE in Washington for 27 years. This version has been updated.
In 1982, I came in at Temple Hills [Safeway store]. I worked with a lot of great older women back then that saw my potential and helped me, because I was young and wild. I promised I would not let them down, so I kept moving forward. I started off making $4.75 an hour as a salad bar person. And then they would put me outside to be a greeter, because I’m not afraid to talk to anybody.
Twenty-seven years ago, I came [to the 14th Street SE store]. The area was bad. Oh, it was rough. One day a young black man came in, and he was stealing. I said: “Oh, no, baby, you can’t steal in front of my face, now. This is my job, and you’re stealing my livelihood away like that. You’ll be the first black man I’m gonna call the police on, okay?” I didn’t see him for a long time. He came back into the store maybe a month later. He never stole out of here again, and he was the angel that God had sent me. He was homeless. We would buy him clothes; I would take him home and clean him up.
I’m only still here because of my customers. They become your family. I’ve had a heart attack since I’ve been here. I got a call from Safeway, and they said: “Can you come back? We’ll accommodate you any way we can.” And I said, “Give me two weeks.” I come from La Plata — I know it’s a long way, but, baby, it’s worth it to me. When I saw a lady today that was coming to find me to meet her son — a 9-month-old little boy — that makes it worth it. The [customers] in the area have always treated us with respect, and the [new] ones will learn to know us. But I know it’s gonna be all right, because you gotta know me. Once you get to know Ms. Nita, it’s on.
Yesterday I wasn’t pleased with myself because I had one [Hispanic] customer, and I got frustrated because I couldn’t make her understand. So I’m like: “God, could you send her back so I can say I’m sorry, and maybe me and her can [figure out] how … do I have to write it down, you know?” He’s gonna send that customer back, and we will become friends.
My employees told me yesterday, “Nita, please keep your customers with you, because they want attention and you give them attention.” People need kindness; they need that tender word — “Good morning” and “How are you? How’s your mom? How’s your dad? How’s your son?” Without my customers, there is no me. I like looking out there seeing them standing in my line. A man told me this morning, “I never can get in your line no more because it’s long.”