CHELSEA, MI—In a formal ceremony Tuesday, store clerk Dean Rechler, 26, was honored by Shop 'n' Thrift store management for five years of humiliating, spirit-crushing employment.

"Dean, you are an unremarkable person with no vim or vigor to speak of," said Greg DeGaetano, Rechler's shift manager at the 24-hour convenience store. "Literally hundreds of employees have come and gone in the five years you have been here, with most able to tolerate only a few months before quitting, yet you have remained."

To commemorate his achievement, Rechler was given a photocopied "Certificate of Degradation," stating that he had successfully endured five years of cashiering, mopping and stocking with no benefits, paid vacations, raises or promotions. Though the unappealing document was described by Shop 'n' Thrift upper management as "suitable for framing," it was clearly fit only for hiding at the bottom of a drawer, which is where it now resides.

Following the five-minute ceremony, Shop 'n' Thrift regional manager Larry Eldgren instructed Rechter to "get back to work."

DeGaetano explained how Rechler will often work his third-shift in a stupor of pitiful, stoop-shouldered atrophy. He restocks the snack foods and beverages slowly, staring blankly into the distance like a zoo animal whose spirit has long been broken. Yet he maintains a civil demeanor toward customers for fear of reprimand from superiors.

In addition to dehumanizing, servile labor, Rechler endures daily reminders of his inadequacy in the form of deeply degrading lectures on how to properly mop, sweep and wipe countertops, not to mention the constant suspicion of theft every time his till is counted at the end of a shift.

Rechler is also regularly forced to submit to a Shop 'n' Thrift chain-wide policy requiring employees to wear a variety of embarrassing promotional and customer-service-oriented buttons. The buttons, which cannot be removed on pain of suspension without pay, include such soul-crushing messages as, "Ask Me About Two-4-One Hot Dogs"; "Be A Winner—Play Lotto"; and "Am I Smiling? If Not, Report Me Immediately At 555-4578."

Despite his long tenure at the store, Rechler is said to be of above-average intelligence, making his long history all the more humiliating.

"If he was mentally retarded, I would understand," said Gene Frey, 26, who worked with Rechler at Shop 'n' Thrift during the summer of 1994 and has long since moved on to dignified employment. "Then, maybe he'd be able to do the same dull thing every day for years and not go crazy. But Dean doesn't have a crippling mental disability—he's a normal guy who could be doing a lot better. I don't know how he can stand it."

Recent store hire Lisa Greene, 20, agreed. "It's so embarrassing that anyone would work here for that long," she said. "As soon as my band starts getting gigs, I'm history."

Despite all the notoriety, Rechler himself is unimpressed with reaching the five-year mark. "It's not like I'm going to work here forever," he said. "I was thinking of maybe going back to school or something."

When told of Rechler's remarks, co-workers stressed that he has been talking about going back to school for years and will likely never do so.

"Dean is a sad, sad individual," DeGaetano said.

Rechler's parents declined to comment on their son's accomplishment. "I have no son," said Helene Rechler, 56, before hanging up.