Diminutive grandmother still helps run the show

December 27, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — As she has for 60 of her 84 years, Mimi Ellis worked a full shift yesterday at the Calexico department store bearing her father Sam's name.

The diminutive grandmother rang up purchases, helped find merchandise for customers looking to exchange Christmas gifts and made sure the infants department is running smoothly during one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Unlike most women her age, Ellis, formerly Holloway, is still working.

Her brother Richie Ellis called her the "hub of the wheel" for the store's 60 employees.

Co-workers said they are motivated every time she walks through the door.

They said they work harder knowing that an 84-year-old woman is working with them.

She took a break from the store on Christmas Eve to spend time with her large extended family.

The day before she was working behind the venerable Sam Ellis sales counter during a busy Christmas Eve rush.


With the store packed, customers and sales associates would crowd around her, practically blocking her from sight until she would suddenly reappear carrying armfuls of merchandise to the counter.

Once she cleared away space to set down the merchandise, she started writing up the ticket.

At the Sam Ellis Store, associates don't use electronic scanners to ring up purchases. They have to write down the item number and price of each garment, then tally a total.

While Ellis has done this for 60 years, the job is still demanding — particularly during a Christmas Eve rush.

Sales associates at stores with electronic scanners rue the times the computers are down and they have to write up handwritten tickets.

If those computer-dependent retailers could see Ellis dutifully write down each item with 84-year-old hands, and a still quick mind, they would be impressed.

While she fills out a ticket, Ellis takes time to talk to customers crowded around the counter, including, during a one-hour stretch of her shift on Christmas Eve, a toddler in a turquoise jumper and a harried male shopper.

While she was talking with customers and writing up a ticket, co-workers asked her questions or long-time friends would rush up to give her a hug and wish her a merry Christmas.

Ellis has been able to make special connections with her customers and co-workers.

The girls she went to school with brought their daughters in to see her. Those daughters brought their own daughters to see Ellis.

She has sold generations of girls their dresses for first communion or a quinceañera.

One of the associates who works with Ellis in the infants department, Celia Mariscal, said Ellis has helped make shopping at Sam Ellis a tradition for many Imperial Valley women.

While Ellis can still remember the faces and names of her longtime customers, sometimes a customer who hasn't been in for two or more years will ask her, "Hey, don't you know me?"

She said she tells the customers that she is getting old and doesn't remember everyone like she used to.

Asked how she has managed to find the energy to come to work each day, Ellis said, "I saw my father do it."

She said she loved her father so much that she fell in love with his store as well.

When she was younger, Sam Ellis helped foster that affection by taking her on his buying trips.

Richie Ellis said his sister grew up at the store and he doesn't think she will ever leave.

Walking by as he said that, she said, "They'll have to dig a hole for me right here."

Some members of her family tell her she doesn't need to work as hard as she does but Ellis said she will not retire to her living room. She said she would miss the customers she considers friends.

"I don't want to go home and be surrounded by four walls. What do I want that for? I'm going to be in a box with four walls soon enough as it is," she said.

Ellis plans on working as long as she can.

"My dad was like that; till the day he died," she said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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