As Dickinson's Herberger's store continues its slow closure, aisles festooned with colorful discount signs, the store's associates continue to mingle with customers, making sales and swapping smiles.
Brightly grinning, Vicky Zander checks out items for a pair of women, encouraging them to come back next week for even deeper discounts. They share some lively banter and familiar conversation. Another customer asks her assistance, and Zander gets to know her with some small talk, discovering she's here from out of state, visiting family.
Zander has been with Herberger's a long time-39 years today, in fact. In that time, she's seen the store and the city grow and change, and she's left a legacy of congeniality that few can touch.
"She's the best," Sara Booke, a fellow associate of Zander's, said. "If you just stop what you're doing and listen to her as she interacts with the customers, she will make you smile every day. She's very good with people and she genuinely cares about them."
"She is very outgoing and she is just so good with the customers and she comes in with a good attitude and she's happy," Theresa Black, another store employee, added. "You can hear her laughing across the store."
Zander is an energetic woman with infectious good cheer. She's been in Dickinson since 1971, and with Herberger's since 1979. She loves animals, she loves gardening-and she loves her job.
"I think it's fun! Besides (cleaning) the dressing rooms, it's fun," Zander said. "I'm going to miss the regular customers who I get to bug all the time."
Zander's efficacy as a sales associate comes from her ability to come to know her customers. She described how she recommends clothes to each customer based on their individual style, appearance and tastes-honing a sharp eye for which outfits work.
Rose Lenerville, human resource manager for the store, said that customers have appreciated Zander's honesty-she's not afraid to say when an outfit doesn't work. This appreciation has been, at times, tangible-Zander is so adored by her regular customers that they bring her gifts, often souvenirs of recent vacations.
"I did get a little giraffe from Africa, a little wooden one," Zander said. "I got a penguin, I got a koala bear from Australia ... it's a little stuffed animal, it's like a clothespin."
Zander is often requested by name, according to some of her coworkers.
"Everybody loves working with her. She's always got her little ladies who come in and she helps them shop and get outfits and they go home with a complete wardrobe," Kathy Mischel, a store associate, said. "Whenever they come in, they'd be like 'where's Vicky, where's Vicky?'"
Zander's genuine care for her customers is mingled with a thorough knowledge of the store's inventory and her customers' tastes.
"When we get a truck in sometimes she'll come back and look through the stuff and she'll go 'oh my gosh, I hope that customer who was here Friday comes back because this is exactly what they wanted,'" Black said. "She knows all the stuff we have and she knows exactly what her customers want and are looking for. She knows them by name. She'll remember stuff about them, she'll ask about them and what they're doing. She has a lot of customers who come to her."
Zander has seen a lot of change in her decades in Dickinson-she's sold clothes through two big oil booms.
"The first time, it was really super busy," she recalled. "You would put something on the rack, you'd have the weekend off and you'd get back and half your rack was gone. It would all be sold."
Zander has seen clothing trends shift in Dickinson over the years, as fashion trends and demographics change-these days, "activewear" is a section unto itself, but Zander can recall a time when there was far less demand or variety.
There's been some interesting goings on at Herberger's while Zander has worked there.
"We had a lot of shenanigans! We used to have a petting zoo here," she said. "One weekend we had a bunch of animals come in and we had a parade of animals in a wagon. We had bunnies, we had a goat, we had dogs and cats."
They'd also host "baby races" from time to time and see how quickly infants could cross portions of the store floor, all many years ago.
So what will Zander do now that the store is closing?
"Find a job with health benefits," she said.
She intends to stay in Dickinson for the short term, but hopes to settle in Montana in the future.