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Shopping for smiles: Cashier’s daily question greets customers

Staff writer

A cool question greeted customers shopping at Carlsons’ Grocery on Friday’s steamy afternoon: ice cream cones or sno cones?

Don Parish, 36, wasn’t trying to sell frozen desserts to shoppers. The self-described introvert and lead cashier at Carlsons’ just wanted a conversation starter for his customers.

“Don’s Question of the Day” started in May as a way to create personal interaction.

“I like the personal (conversations), I like chatting with people,” Parish said. “I don’t want to just give you your groceries and have you head out the door and there’s no interaction. That makes your job boring. It’s caring for people, hearing about their day-to-day lives, the smiles, the laughs, all of that. I love it.”

Just don’t expect him to always have an answer to his own questions.

About 60 percent of customers answer the question, Parish estimated. Seniors lead the responses, especially in mornings and on Wednesdays.

“I don’t force it on people,” he said. “I have my regulars that I’ll ask. A lot of times that’s the first thing they’ll do when they come in.”

His questions tend toward the fun and lighthearted. Inspiration comes from his wife, Tisha, and daughter, Zoe, as well as customers, friends, and the Internet.

“I just want it to be fun,” Parish said. “I want it to be something that the town talks about.”

He keeps political issues out of his questions.

“I try not to get too political,” Parish said. “These are people going through a cashier line, so they’re more than likely going to want to be getting in and out pretty soon, so I try to keep it fun and light, but at the same time short and simple — something they can respond to quickly.”

But some questions are intended to make people think about their answer, even after they have left the store.

The Aug. 3 question was, “If you could have an infinite amount of anything that isn’t money related, what would it be?”

Answers included health, peace of mind, and time with family.

“That’s a thinker,” Parish said. “Most people aren’t just going to have an answer, but that’s actually a good question you can think about all day.”

Parish said customers’ answers can shed new light on different ways of thinking.

In the case of Friday’s ice cream and sno cone question, one customer told Parish that alcohol can be added to ice cream. Another customer said some fancy ice creams are made with shaved ice.

“It’s just little things like that,” he said. “One of the reasons I like doing it is I like hearing the stories from people and I also like discovering new things. And what people say and their thoughts help me to think in a different way or learn something new.”

Small town Kansas life was new to Parish when he moved to Marion two years ago from Olathe after his father-in-law contracted stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

Before, he called Texas, New Mexico, and Illinois home. As the son of missionaries, his homeschooled high school graduation was in Papua New Guinea, a country in the south Pacific Ocean just north of Australia.

Parish said he was a rebellious teen who did not want to go halfway around the world. As an adult, he came to Marion “kicking and screaming.”

But the people of Marion have converted Parish to small town life.

“People just seem to be more understanding, they’re less rude, they’re less busy, they’re not in as much of a hurry to get to the next place,” he said.

Parish said he has gotten to know his customers in Marion.

“I see the same people every day,” he said. “It’s kind of like a little, small family. I feel like I know everybody in town. Not by name necessarily, but I know faces.”

As head cashier, Parish has trained seven new cashiers this summer. His most important lesson?

“Always greet a customer with a smile, and always say something to them when they walk in the door … it makes the person feel good inside, it makes them feel welcome,” he said.

For now, though, other cashiers won’t use Don’s question of the day with their customers.

“I want it to be something to look forward to,” Parish said. “You wake up Monday morning and answer the question of the day just to get your day going.”

Parish said his last two jobs since moving to Marion have been his happiest.

“Really that’s what it’s all about — enjoying what you do and making other people feel good,” he said.

Last modified Aug. 19, 2017

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